Province’s blue box changes bring concerns for local businesses

GUELPH – Wellington County council has endorsed the continuation of county-provided recycling services, but is concerned a local plan leaves out some industrial, commercial and institutional groups.

A provincial change in 2021 to the ubiquitous blue box program is forcing producers of paper and packaging to cover the cost of recycling services for residents, schools, non-profit long-term care homes, parks and transit stations across the province.

A phased approach will see the responsibility transition away from the county starting July 1, 2025, with full producer responsibility kicking in January 2026.

Other municipalities, including East Garafraxa, Grand Valley, Orangeville, Owen Sound, and Southgate, have already switched over.

The provinces of British Columbia and Québec have been using such a model for years.

“It’s a large cost that municipalities bear, and frankly, we’re not producing these materials which is a leftover of people’s consumption habits,” county waste services manager Das Soligo told the Advertiser.

Instead of each taxpayer footing the cost of recycling, producers will have to cover the cost and recoup it by increasing prices for consumers who use the products.

“The theory is that producers, in trying to reduce the cost of their own products, might try to have more recyclable packaging or make some adjustments that would be more efficient,” Soligo said.

Residents here are unlikely to notice any practical changes – pickups will continue to be done by the company Waste Management on the current schedule.

But because producers don’t have to cover collection from the commercial and industrial sector, councillors are concerned about what happens for local businesses relying on curbside pickup of their blue bins, totalling roughly 80 tonnes of recyclables each year.

Though larger businesses already have private contracts for waste collection, small businesses, particularly heavy users located in downtowns, would be left without a cost-effective replacement for curbside pickup.

County staff suggested continuing pickup at 558 businesses within the county’s 14 downtown areas, as well as allowing businesses to drop off recycling at a Mount Forest transfer hub, operated by Waste Management.

“Closing the post-transition service gaps will capture up to 20 per cent of the county’s total recycling tonnage,” Soligo wrote in a report to the county’s solid waste services committee.

Without keeping the service going, some of that tonnage would “surely” end up tossed in the landfill, he added.

The county’s cost to service the downtown areas and allow businesses and residents to drop off recycling (around 1,000 residents don’t receive curbside collection) is estimated at $303,600.

The portion of that cost for downtown pickup is estimated at $96,574 annually — not including a one-time $7,000 expense for 64-gallon carts — but that estimate could come down depending on how many businesses wish to participate.

It’s an “incremental budget impact” Soligo wrote in his report, considering producers will be fully paying for residential recycling services. Currently the county and producers split the $4-million annual expense.

Council supported the recommendation to cover downtown pickup at its meeting on April 25, however there are still outlying businesses which aren’t downtown, and use curbside service.

Warden Andy Lennox said “there’s a fair amount of frustration” with the new program’s lack of coverage for businesses or institutions, such as churches, which have long relied on blue box pickup.

“So we have to figure out a way to fill this gap,” he said. “It seems kind of backwards.”

Councillor Chris White has an issue with the potential financial effects on local business people, and with service reduction.

“I have a real problem with reducing service like this, especially when we’re supposed to be saving some money here, which would give us an ability to continue to support our businesses,” White said, adding, “they’re paying higher taxes.”

“We’re definitely very concerned; we want to make sure that all of our small businesses are being looked after,” agreed councillor Diane Ballantyne.

“We should continue to provide them with service, in my opinion,” she said, adding she has faith a solution will be found.

Solid waste services chair Steve O’Neill also is also confident the county will cover the outliers.

“It’s tough to tell people, ‘Well, we’re saving money and we’re not going to give it back to you,’” he said.

“Just because the province and producers [are] letting us down a bit doesn’t mean we can say, ‘well, it’s not our problem anymore,’ because it certainly is.”

Soligo said staff heard council’s charge for options on providing recycling collection to more businesses.

Staff will respond in June with a report on the cost for Waste Management to cover collection at any business within the county’s 56 urban areas, potentially expanding on the 14 downtowns already approved by council last week.

The report will also include pricing to service any business within the county, Soligo said.

Key influences on the forthcoming June quotes will be additional time and stops required, as well as an increased estimate in the tonnage to be collected.

The cost to the county for Waste Management to process a tonne of recycling in Mount Forest is estimated at $250.

“Once we see the quotations it might inform a recommendation, or we might just stick with our original one,” Soligo said.

“We’re going to do some analysis and look at those 14 downtown areas, what percentage of the county businesses are captured by those, what percentage are captured by these other options, and give council the information they require to make a more informed decision.”