County positioned for transition of recycling duties

WELLINGTON COUNTY – The provincial government’s announcement of a transition to full producer responsibility for product and packaging recycling is a step in the right direction, says the chair of Wellington County’s solid waste services committee.

On Aug. 15, Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks Jeff Yurek and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark announced steps to transition the cost of the Blue Box Program away from municipal taxpayers and to make producers fully responsible.

“[That] will promote innovation and increase Ontario’s recycling rates while saving taxpayers money,” said Yurek. “This shift is a big step towards diverting waste, addressing plastic pollution and creating a new recycling economy that everyone can be proud of in Ontario.”

The province has issued direction to Stewardship Ontario outlining the next steps and timelines to transitioning the program to producer responsibility starting in 2023.

Wellington County solid waste services chair Gregg Davidson said the move has been in the works for some time but without a schedule.

“There are timelines now put in place,” said Davidson.

“The previous Liberal government and the Ontario association of municipalities had been working on it. As time went on and the new government took over they said that they would continue on that same pathway and now they’ve finally come out and said ‘here’s the timeline’ … which takes it off the plate of municipalities – especially for Wellington County, it takes off that 50 per cent share that we have to pay, so it makes it less of a burden to taxpayers.”

Davidson noted plans for standardization of recyclables across the province were also announced, which will make it easier to get some materials to market.

“It’s going to make a big difference,” he predicted, though he said standardization hasn’t been a problem locally.

“We always had, in Wellington County, our material being accepted,” he explained, noting other municipalities were impacted “a lot more than we were” when other countries, notably China, started being more selective about the materials they would accept for recycling.

“It was also one of the reasons we didn’t recycle everything,” Davidson stated. “Some municipalities were taking in Styrofoam. But there’s no market for Styrofoam. All they were doing was collecting it and putting it in the landfill.”

The province, in a press release announcing the plans, states Ontario’s recycling rates “have been stalled for 15 years” and up to 30 per cent of blue box materials are sent to landfill.

The release also notes there are over 240 municipal blue box programs that have separate lists of accepted materials, which affects cost savings and contamination.

“We’ve always been very cognizant of what we could get a price for on the open market,” said Davidson.

“And that would subsidize our blue box program without having to take some of that stuff, sort it and throw it in the garbage.”

The county signed new contracts for recycling and waste pickup in the spring, but Davidson said the agreements were crafted with the planned switch to producer responsibility in mind.

“We knew when we were doing these contracts that this was still in the pipeline. So we have the out clauses in place in the contracts in case this happened,” he said.

“Now it’s quite possible  that the producers will still ask the municipalities to do the collection on their behalf and then pay a fee, so that comes off the books, still, of the county.

“They may just take over the contracts that we’ve already signed as well. So there’s still balls in the air … but it’s definitely a step in the right direction for us.”

In June, the province engaged David Lindsay as a special advisor on recycling and plastic waste. For six weeks Lindsay held mediation sessions with municipal and industry stakeholders and in July delivered a report on how to better manage recycling and plastic waste.

Over the coming year, the release states, Ontario will develop and consult on regulations to support the new producer responsibility framework for the Blue Box Program.

Based on Lindsay’s recommendations,  the Blue Box Program will transition to producer responsibility over a three-year period.  “This approach will provide time to consult with the public, stakeholders and Indigenous communities, while providing certainty for municipalities and adequate time for producers to engage service providers,” the release states.

The first group of municipalities or First Nations will transfer responsibility of their programs to producers starting Jan. 1, 2023.  By Dec. 31, 2025, producers will be fully responsible for providing blue box services province wide. Residents who currently receive municipal blue box services will continue to receive the same services throughout the transition period.  Once producers are fully responsible for the program, Ontarians “will experience the same or improved access to Blue Box services across the province,” the government states.