The Future of Recycling: Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

Plastics have played a large part in Torontonians' everyday lives since the 1950s. Since then, plastic production has increased more than any other manufactured material. Based on a study conducted by the Waste Reduction Week in Canada program, it's estimated that on average, less than 11% of plastics are properly recycled in Canada. As plastic waste accumulates in our environment, it threatens the health of our ecosystems.

I've long advocated for a strategy to shift responsibility for recycling to plastic producers. In 2015, I moved a motion that saw City Council support full producer responsibility and new, comprehensive provincial legislation for waste reduction and resource recovery.

In early June of this year, the Minister of Environment, Conservation, and Parks announced that the province would be considering moving to the Extended Producer Responsibility model of plastic and packaging product recycling. This change is intended to decrease plastic waste across the province.

The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program is a comprehensive policy approach to hold Canadian producers, importers, and brand owners accountable for reducing the environmental impact of their products and packaging. Currently, Ontario's recycling costs are split by municipalities and by Stewardship Ontario, a non-profit organization that collects fees from importers, manufacturers, and brand owners of packaging products that end up in our blue bins. In contrast, EPR is a 'cradle to grave' model of product management, which maintains that the producer must manage the product's entire lifespan. This includes waste reduction, recovery, recycling, and reuse.

Toronto is home to the fourth-largest municipal waste system in North America, managing approximately 200,000 tonnes of recyclables annually through its Blue Bin Recycling Program. Waste audits have indicated that contamination in the City's Blue Bin program has been increasing since 2013, which is costing the City millions annually. There is a lack of awareness of the negative implications of improper disposal. In 2017, more than 52,000 tonnes of non-recyclable material was incorrectly put in our Blue Bins. If you are interested, you can find more information on the City's Waste Wizard webpage.

The EPR model will lead to improved recycling practices by rendering the producer wholly responsible for the physical and financial aspects of the disposal of both the product and the packaging. There are also numerous benefits to making the shift for Toronto taxpayers. A producer-run system could encourage manufacturers to create materials that are easier to recycle and become less reliant on single-use plastics. Currently, the materials that can and can't be recycled vary from city to city, and in some cases, it even varies from homes to industrial buildings.

Switching to the EPR model would likely mean that recycling practices would become standardized across the province, eliminating confusion and reducing contamination. I support implementing the Extended Producer Responsibility model to ensure that the City's waste is mindfully managed in a manner that respects our natural environment and benefits the residents of Toronto.