Canada: Waste Diversion – Recycling and Product Stewardship

This article was originally published in Blakes Bulletin on Environmental Law - October 2004

The Ontario government established April 20, 2004 as the date for companies to register with Waste Diversion Ontario or its delegatee – Stewardship Ontario. That date has come and gone, along with a 60-day grace period that ended on June 21, 2004. In the meantime, many companies selling products in Ontario are still grappling with the scope of the Blue Box Program and have yet to register and determine whether any fees are due and owing for 2004.

For those readers who include themselves in this group, the time has come to sit up and take notice of the "Product Stewardship" wave that is sweeping Canada. The concept of businesses accepting responsibility for the management of wastes generated by their products has been talked about for some time. In May 1996, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), a committee of federal and provincial ministers of the environment, published guiding principles for what they called "Packaging Stewardship".

They stated that "packaging stewardship is a concept by which industry, governments and consumers assume greater responsibility for ensuring that the manufacture, use, reuse, recycling and disposal of packaging has a minimum impact on the environment".

Alberta E-Waste Recycling Program

More recently, the CCME endorsed principles for electronic product stewardship, to assist and support Canadian jurisdictions in the development of "e-waste" recycling programs. This followed the leadership shown by the Alberta government in May of this year when it launched Canada’s first electronic products recycling program. Starting October 1, 2004, televisions, computers and related equipment will be recycled in the province. Collection of the used products will be co-ordinated locally and an environmental fee, ranging from $5 to $45, depending on the item, will be placed on each product. The fees will be established by a non-profit company, the Alberta Recycling Management Authority, which will collect the fees from wholesalers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

Ontario Blue Box Program

Already Stewardship Ontario is running into a number of problems in administering the Blue Box Program. Part of the problem is the need for business education. Most businesses, understandably, are under the impression that unless they sell most of their products to the retail consumer, the program and its fees do not apply. However, this appears not to be the case and Stewardship Ontario is taking the position that if your Ontario annual sales are greater than $2 million and you generate any of the so-called "Blue Box" wastes (glass, metal, paper, plastic or textiles), you must register and then calculate how much of these wastes end up in the residential waste stream.

One question Blakes has raised with Stewardship Ontario is whether the Ontario Blue Box Program applies at all to service industries, such as financial institutions and large professional accountancy, business management and, for that matter, law firms. The Firm’s position is that it does not, but Stewardship Ontario is not so sure and is encouraging such businesses to register with the program. We are also witnessing the passing on of recycling fees by such large retailers as Wal-Mart to its non-resident suppliers.

Further evidence of this trend was seen in the June release of an Ontario Discussion Paper entitled "Ontario’s 60% Waste Diversion Goal". The paper canvasses such options as banning the disposal of key recyclables, instituting mandatory recycling targets for industries and municipalities and expanding the class of wastes that are subject to Waste Diversion Ontario and its fee collection programs.

Accordingly, if your business does not wish to be caught off-guard by these new fees or taxes, find out what is happening in those Canadian provinces where you conduct business and, if possible, get involved with any industry associations working with government to ensure that you pay only your fair share of the cost to collect and recycle post-consumer wastes.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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