City of Ottawa’s new recycling scheme will shift responsibility to producers for recycling, redirecting waste

Companies responsible for producing blue box items such as paper, glass and metal in Ottawa will soon be responsible for collecting these materials and recycling them properly.

“This is the first time in Ontario that anyone (other than a municipality) is fully responsible for a Blue Box program,” said Andrea Gay Farley, program manager at the City of Ottawa Solid Waste Services.

The transition will take place between July 2023 and the end of 2025, giving the city time to work with producers to find solutions for waste collection and diversion. The details of exactly how the program works will be confirmed over the next two years.

Once the new system is in place, major cities in Ontario such as Ottawa, Toronto and London will place the economic and social responsibility on manufacturers to collect blue box materials and meet diversion targets to avoid sending these items to the landfill.

The initiative is part of two major pieces of legislation introduced by the Ontario government – Law on Resource Recycling and Circular Economy and Act on transition to diversion of waste To create a “circular” waste economy, where producers are responsible for the waste generated by their products and for the recycling or disposal of residual material.

Gay Farley said manufacturers will be responsible for providing a level of service that residents are accustomed to. Residents “should not notice a difference,” she said. “The transition should be fairly smooth.”

The Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (RPRA) will be the new regulatory body to regulate independent producers in this initiative, according to its website. The RPRA is authorized by the Ontario Government to administer not only this initiative but other similar programs.

“The Blue Box program will remain pretty much the same. It will continue to be a fundraising program next door.”

RPRA Representative Wilson Lee

Lee said, however, that there may be various programs for materials outside the criteria for the blue box, such as batteries. There may be opportunities for consumers to return these used products to manufacturers or collection at major cities or social events, according to Lee.

Ottawa has already begun implementing more targeted individual producer responsibility (IPR) programs. In January 2019, used tires were brought under an IPR; used batteries and electronic equipment are also collected under an IPR system. The changes meant that the companies that produced these products became responsible for collecting waste material for recycling or disposal.

“The transition of these programs represents minimal impact on the city’s current waste management programs compared to the greater scope of changes expected from the transition to the Provincial Blue Box program,” a memo to city councilors said.

City council members were updated on the changes to the city’s recycling scheme during a meeting of the environment committee on September 17. Among the documents presented was a December 2020 letter to the province in which the city said it supports “making packaging and product manufacturers fully responsible for managing their products and packaging for the end of their lives.”

“Municipalities cannot control the type of products or packaging delivered to the market, we have little influence on the recycling markets, nor can we predict changes in packaging to make appropriate investments in collection and treatment infrastructure,” the letter added. “This is something that manufacturers have a stronger ability to do, and they have the greatest ability to create positive environmental results in the most efficient way.”

Trail Road The landfill in southwestern Ottawa, Ontario’s second largest landfill, will reach capacity by 2045. Without the IPR program and other similar waste management programs, Ottawa’s ability to handle waste will diminish over the next few decades.

Ottawa’s potential waste projections if changes to the Blue Box program and other initiatives are not implemented. Video excerpt from the City of Ottawa’s Standing Committee on Environmental Protection, Water and Waste Management, via YouTube, June 17, 2021.

Ontario is not the first province to implement an IPR program to improve waste diversion from landfills. For example, in BC, consumers can return batteries and coffee pads to manufacturers for recycling.

There are also independent IPR initiatives. Nespresso is a company that supplies recycled bags with its coffee pads so that consumers can collect and send the used pods back to the company, which then processes the aluminum pads and recycles them.

Direct recycling, such as the programs above, has been successful, but additional recycling methods may be implemented during the transition period to IPR, according to Gay Farley.

Recycling is the plateau and has generally declined since 2013. The Blue Box program redirects recyclable items from the landfill, but the implementation of the individual producer responsibility system is expected to improve overall recycling in the province.

Waste diversion programs such as those implemented by the city can also help combat climate change and help Ottawa achieve its emission reduction targets by redirecting more material from landfills.

Methane, which leaks from landfills, accounts for 20 percent of all emissions in Canada.

‘It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, the sea and the land. There have been widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, the ocean, the cryosphere and the biosphere, ”states the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sixth report.

Single trash can near a pedestrian path in Hog's Back Park.
Changes to the city’s recycling program can help divert more recyclable material from ending up in landfills. [Photo © Jasmine Bhimani]

When the transition period ends in early 2026 and the city expects to completely switch to IPR for blue box items.

The city said it will continue to work closely with the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority during and after the transition period. RPRA will be responsible for ensuring that services to citizens are not disrupted, and will monitor waste diversion targets during IPR recycling.

“The Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority is the sole regulatory authority,” a spokesman for the city of Ottawa added. “The city will make every effort to cooperate with the manufacturers to try to keep the disturbance to a minimum, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to collect the Blue Box material in accordance with the regulation.”

Editor’s note: This history has been updated to correct the transition and implementation timeline for changes.

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