Whew! I made the December 3rd deadline, just under the wire. I put the final touches on my comments about changes to Ontario's cherished and much-emulated Blue Box recycling program. The proposed changes take recycling away from municipalities and puts it in the hands of "producers". These are the corporate giants and their brands that create the waste materials in the first place. I put responding to the government committee whose members will be voting on this on my 'must do' list. Proud to say must 'do' is now 'done'. A four-page, typewritten brief.
The only tools I have are words. Even then, I can't force politicians and policymakers to read or do what I say but at least I can say, "I told you so" and "I tried." Keep in mind that comments won't be circulated if they mention names and phone numbers. I had to edit my submission to remove Loblaw, Shoppers Drug Mart, Life Brand and CEO Galen Weston from my comments about wet wipes. Yes, a big waste bin of topics are covered here. When you have the government's ear, bend it.
Ontarians have one of two choices about waste disposal, 1) be responsible and use the appropriate bin or 2) be irresponsible and litter or dump, and/or contaminate loads by recycling incorrectly and not packing their bins correctly.
This regulation covers 1) the responsible consumer who will put the waste in the appropriate bin. It obligates producers to deal with the waste in the bin, by definition “end of life” waste. However, the legislation has a gaping hole: it does not deal with point 2) above, the Ontarians who are careless with their waste.
I suggest that the term “end of life” be removed from the text of legislation wherever it appears.
Section 70 of this regulation says that it “may provide that a person mentioned in section 61 or 62 is responsible for implementing a promotion and education program in respect of the collection system or management system for that class in accordance with the prescribed requirements.” (italics mine)
It mentions educating consumers. I completely agree – communication is a key. Let the public see how well or poorly corporations are doing at managing waste generated by both the responsible and irresponsible consumers.
This regulation speaks of:
- Reporting on the amounts of Blue Box materials supplied and diverted each year
- Establishing collection systems
- Achieving management requirements for Blue Box materials, including meeting diversion targets
- Educating consumers
- Registering with and reporting to the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority
- Other requirements, including record keeping and third-party audits
Regarding, ‘Educating consumers’ I recommend a return to Ontario Regulation 103/94 2.1.3 and that this be an obligation placed on all sectors – Industrial, Commercial, Institutional, Multi-Residential – a holistic approach that takes recycling targets seriously across the board and communicates this message to the public. Quoting here directly from the former regulation:
A Guide to Source Separation of Recyclable Materials for Industrial, Commercial and Institutional Sectors and Multi-Unit Residential Buildings
Information to Users
- To promote awareness of the source separation program and ensure its continuing success, information must be provided to those who will use the program (e.g. employees, patrons, students and tenants).
- This information can be in the form of yearly or more frequent progress reports that show the amount of materials collected, cost savings or other waste reduction achievements.
- These reports serve as reminders and motivational tools to encourage participation by providing feedback to users.
- The program should be communicated to employees, tenants, students and patrons to ensure that source separation procedures, responsibilities and equipment use are properly understood.
- New employees should also be informed of the program and trained in its operation as soon as is practical after being hired. Also, information about modifications to the program, such as the addition of new materials to be separated, must be conveyed.
- Communication can be through newsletters, signs, group meetings or other methods available to the owner or operator.
- Employees should be trained in the proper use of source separation equipment and program procedures. Training should enable employees to recognize what materials must be source separated, the desired quality, locations of collection containers, and how to contact program coordinators.
- Training can take place through meetings, information sessions, newsletters or pamphlets.
I refer now to excerpted recommendations from my 2013 report LITTER CONTROL IN ONTARIO: NO TIME TO WASTE.
- Include anti-littering message on Ministry of Transportation (MTO) vehicle licence renewal information inserts.
- Institute an organized system of data collection.
- Ministry of Government Services work with Ontario Public Service regarding cigarette butt and other litter to ensure responsible waste management practices among employees at all levels of the public service.
- Implement uniform recycling and litter prevention measures across all ministries.
- Establish a panel to look at updating Ontario’s approach to littering to achieve better results.
- Signal through Ministry of the Attorney General that littering charges are to be taken seriously.
- Support those municipalities’ efforts that reinforce non-littering behaviours.
- Remove “end of life” as a term describing waste in legislation and in stewardship organization mandates so that they must take some ownership and responsibility for product litter problems.
- Include clear information about waste management and litter prohibitions in citizenship courses and pledges.
- Spearhead an assessment of Ontario’s enforcement levels and practices and begin routine enforcement of EPA Reg. 103/94 (2.1.3) on ICI sector.
A second progress report on litter was published back in 2014.
Through regulation there needs to be a higher built-in standard of action on the government agency’s part and better, enforceable accountability measures for the producers and their organizations.
As well, the public should be told of the cost implications as industry groups pass on their costs to consumers through product price increases.
Communication must be clear. Targets must be set and honoured.
Producers have largely sidestepped their obligation to educate consumers about the proper disposal of their products - tobacco, plastics, confectionery, PPE, for example.
So how well will the ministry, its agency and corporate partners communicate the facts about the Blue Box changeover, the ongoing results and who to hold accountable for fixing problems or failures and addressing complaints?
I think now specifically of wipes. These products are branded with names such as “Flushables”. Non-recyclable, frequently littered, plastic wipes that people are wrongly flushing and creating serious maintenance issues for municipal sewer systems around the world. They are anything but flushable. Three major Canadian companies here in Ontario have been deaf to my written and phone complaints to the CEO on down. They peddle a generic brand of wet wipes which they label “flushable”, misleading consumers into believing that plastic wipes are safe to flush down toilets when in fact such disposal is an environmentally degrading act that is damaging to vital water and sewage treatment machinery.
Please consult the excellent work of the MESUG (Municipal Enforcement Sewer Use Group), and build in measures in law that enable the ministry and the public to fix problems like this.
The same goes for the corporate definition of “biodegradable”. We can’t have corporations implying that if their product is strewn, it’s going to disappear on its own any time soon. Municipal recycling systems aren’t set up to process most of these new, so-called biodegradable products like snack bag wrappers and coffee pods.
Something as simple as putting the word “litter” as a topic heading on the Ontario environment ministry’s website homepage seems impossible to achieve. I’ve tried. Such a simple request, why is it so difficult to do this one small thing?
Given the frustration of trying to move the needle even slightly, is there even a point in my requesting standards and protocols that deal with “non-end of life” waste and hold producers accountable for getting litter prevention, recycling, education and proper disposal information to their customers?
If not this remedy, then the government must develop an aggressive and robust alternative plan for coming to grips with Ontario’s litter problem. With all due respect to the MECP staff behind the government’s year-one Act on Litter campaign, the need for a better program online and on the ground is clearly evident, especially when measured against global examples of concerted litter prevention programs.
I’d also like to see something built in to the legislation for controlling any mark-ups and consumer price hikes, particularly but not only in the food and grocery sectors, that come as a result of companies passing on additional costs related to meeting their corporate sustainability obligations under this legislation.
And lastly, I use this opportunity to point out that Ontario does have a PPE littering epidemic. Increased littering overall is another unfortunate effect of COVID-19 with PPE registering as a new and prolific litter type on land and in water. Manufacturers of plastic gloves and face masks should be expected in law to have a recycling and collection program relating to these products specifically just as the wipes producers should be challenged over the “flushable” labeling.
These are my comments. Thank you for taking the time to read and consider them. While I realize some of them may not apply to this regulation per se, I do see them as relevant to the broader discussion of waste in Ontario and what actions the province can take to improve the situation.
Litter Prevention Program