That is Part 3 in a three-part series investigating the state of Canada’s recycling industry. Read Part 1 and Part 2 of the series here.
On the Merlin Plastics plant in Delta, B.C., beads of reflective, grey plastic bounce along a processing line.
What was once a detergent bottle has been washed, ground down and reduced to pellets in order that it may possibly be sold to create latest bottles.
That is the longer term of recycling.
Not due to what’s happening here — but due to who’s doing it.
Anyone in B.C. who makes a product, sells a product or imports a product that’s collected in a blue bin has to pay to recycle its packaging. The province is the one jurisdiction in North America that’s each funding and managing its entire recycling system — as a substitute of leaving that responsibility to municipalities and their taxpayers.
The model is named “prolonged producer responsibility,” or EPR, and it’s regulated under a provincial law that got here into force in B.C. in 2014.
“EPR is de facto about saying, ‘You made this, you’re accountable for it at its end of life,’” explained Usman Valiante, a senior environmental policy analyst with Cardwell Grove.
“You selected the raw materials to make use of in your product or packaging … Now, we wish you to take the responsibility that after the buyer’s done with that soft drink bottle or that potato chip bag, that you simply arrange a system to take responsibility to tug that stuff back from consumers… So you would possibly then take that material yourself and put it back into the following cycle of soppy drink bottles or potato chip bags,” Valiante said.
On this latest recycling ecosystem, nearly 1,300 corporations — including Apple Canada, Boston Pizza, Procter & Gamble and Loblaw — have come together to form a non-profit organization called Recycle BC, which carries out residential recycling within the province.
And the success is obvious.
At 69 per cent, B.C.’s recycling rate is the very best recorded within the country. Recycle BC is accepting more items in its blue bins while other municipalities in Canada are cutting down, and it has dedicated plants that take products like shopping bags and berry and pastry containers, which recyclers in other parts of the country have stopped accepting or are paying to eliminate.
In 2018, China banned much of the world’s recycling, sending the worldwide industry into turmoil. But in accordance with the chair of Recycle BC, John Coyne, the impact was “moderate to minimal” in B.C.
Under B.C.’s Environmental Management Act, producers must recuperate 75 per cent of the paper and packaging they produce. That focus on increases as the federal government reviews the plan every five years, and producers face fines in the event that they don’t reach it — although, they haven’t missed it yet.
Producers are also motivated to make use of packaging that’s more easily recycled. For instance, package your eggs in a paper carton and also you’ll pay 25 cents a kilogram to recycle it. Package them in polystyrene — commonly often known as Styrofoam — and also you’ll pay 100 cents a kilogram.
The last word goal of the EPR model is for producers who currently make packaging that may’t be recycled to vary its design into something that’s.
“So it could be to say … ‘This product doesn’t make sense the way in which that it’s currently, and so we must always move to a unique design,’” said Peter Hargreave, president of the waste management consulting firm Policy Integrity.
Coffee giant Keurig, a member of Recycle BC, wanted to vary its pods from a plastic that wasn’t recyclable to at least one that was and, in 2016, began testing a new edition at a plastics plant where Recycle BC contracts its processing. Today, Keurig’s latest pod is recycled across the province.
However the widespread elimination of non-recyclable packaging isn’t happening yet.
That’s because B.C. alone represents such a tiny fraction of the worldwide market that as a substitute of being pushed to switch their packaging, many corporations simply shrug off the additional cost and chalk it as much as the worth of doing business in B.C.
“Until we actually complete the puzzle and we all know everybody’s got EPR programs in place and all of those systems are functioning in a broadly similar fashion, you haven’t really accomplished the image yet,” said Coyne, who, along with serving as chair of Recycle BC, is a vice-president and the final counsel of Unilever Canada, whose parent company is accountable for 400 brands from Lipton to Vaseline to Breyers.
Even that latest Keurig pod — now recyclable in B.C. — isn’t being recycled in all of Canada.
That’s because full producer responsibility doesn’t exist in the remaining of the country. Some provinces require producers to pay for a part of their recycling, but none outside of B.C. are required to administer the actual system. Consequently, there isn’t any agreement from city to city, let alone province to province, about what’s accepted within the blue bin and what’s ultimately recycled.
In Ontario, where producers are required to pay for 50 per cent of the recycling system, municipalities are calling for the EPR model to be fully adopted by the provincial government and made into law. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment has previously signalled it’s moving in that direction and will get there by 2023.
“If a province the dimensions of Ontario moves forward with full EPR together with a lot of the opposite provinces inside the country, I feel we are going to likely see some changes inside our products,” said Matt Keliher, general manager of solid waste management services for the City of Toronto.
“It’s a win-win-win situation,” said Calgary Coun. Peter Demong.
Demong has rallied 28 Alberta municipalities to push their provincial government to adopt a full producer responsibility model as well.
But in Europe, where EPR has existed in various forms way back to 1990, it hasn’t solved the entire recycling industry’s woes. That’s why the EU approved a law this past March banning 10 forms of single-use plastics by 2021.
It’s much like what MP Nathan Cullen desires to do in Canada.
“That is ending up in a landfill,” said the NDP MP, waving a black plastic coffee cup lid. “It doesn’t matter whether you place it within the blue box or not. They’ll’t recycle it.”
Cullen introduced a personal member’s bill last February to ban any packaging that may’t be recycled or composted in Canada.
“Some manufacturers will say, ‘Well, technically our products can all be recycled’ … Well, ‘technically’ doesn’t cut it. It’s got to practically be something that, after I put it within the blue box, it finally ends up turning into something else,” Cullen said.
But to ensure that his bill to pass, Cullen will need the support of the Liberal government, and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna would only say she supports the bill “in principle.”
“We have now an enormous problem … The federal government has a task to play, but everyone has a task to play on this,” McKenna said.
The opposite daring measure industry experts say could shift the recycling paradigm is that if governments in Canada mandated packaging contain a certain percentage of recycled content.
“It could spur the recycling industry back to life,” said Keliher with the City of Toronto.
“It might create a marketplace for the materials, straight away, that don’t have a market.”
In California, rigid plastic containers like detergent bottles must contain not less than 25 per cent recycled content. Garbage bags must contain not less than 10 per cent.
The law has meant there at the moment are buyers for the recycled plastics processed by plants like EFS-plastics outside of Stratford, Ont.
“Seventy per cent of our customers are supplying the California marketplace, and that’s from our facilities in each Ontario and Pennsylvania,” said Eadaoin Quinn, director of business development and procurement with EFS-plastics.
EFS gets multiple calls every week from municipalities and recyclers across North America in search of someone to take their plastic film — things like plastic bags — but the corporate is consistently turning them away since it’s already processing at capability.
“If one other area were to enact laws much like California, that will be the precise signal that we and our competitors need with the intention to put money into additional infrastructure,” Quinn added.
Just two weeks ago, EFS-plastics and 11 other co-signatories sent a letter to Canadian governments asking them to create latest laws requiring garbage bags and plastic carry-out bags contain 20 per cent recycled content by 2025.
These plastics, in accordance with the letter, “are at the best risk of being landfilled or incinerated.”
Any jurisdiction could adopt such a law. As an alternative, there’s numerous finger-pointing.
Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment claims it’s as much as the federal government to legislate recycled content, arguing national standards are more practical than each province acting alone.
The federal government, meanwhile, says industry must act.
Regardless of who takes the lead, if recycling is to survive, someone’s got to blink.
—With files from Christian D’Avino