Blue boxes in Ontario to be run by industry that produces packaging that ends up as waste

David Rider

The Toronto Star

Jun 03, 2021 


Overstuffed recycling Blue Bins line a street in East Scarborough.

Starting in July 2023, the running of Toronto’s city-run blue box system will be given over to the makers of the waste packaging that fills the recycling bins.

The Ontario government announced Thursday it has agreement between municipalities and packaging-makers to start a long-planned shift to “extended producer responsibility.”

Toronto is among the first communities to make the move.

Other GTA communities switching after Toronto, include Oshawa and Pickering, in July 2024; Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon, in October 2024; and Oakville and Burlington, in April 2025.

“My goal is to have as much as possible go into that bin,” Environment Minister Jeff Yurek said of items to be accepted for recycling across the province in a standardized system, which replaces a patchwork of programs run locally.

“Our goal is to ensure our program remains convenient, affordable and right for communities,” said Yurek, with “some of the highest waste-diversion targets in North America” enticing firms to make more reusable, less wasteful packaging.

The plan has recycling targets for materials including paper and plastic cups, straws and stir sticks. Asked about coffee pods, labelled recyclable by companies, but rejected by many municipal systems , Yurek said: “We’ll have those further conversations about coffee pods.”

For municipalities, the switch will mean savings — Toronto estimates it to be as much as $15 million per year — and the end of responsibility for an increasingly difficult and costly task that includes disposing of many items wrongly placed in bins.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he likes that residents of multi-residential buildings who get blue-box pickup will continue to do so. Also, under the plan, waste-producers must accept cups, foils, trays, bags and boxes sold for home use.

“City staff will be reviewing the detailed regulations once released and their implications, but the preliminary review indicates this will be a positive step forward for Toronto and our recycling efforts,” Tory said.

Toronto has never managed to divert much more than half of household waste away from landfill, despite a long-standing goal of doing so for 70 per cent of it.

Toronto Environmental Alliance, an advocacy group that has pushed the city to be more sustainable, expressed deep disappointment with the provincial plan.

TEA waste campaigner Emily Alfred said recycling targets for many materials are too low. Producers have years to meet a target of recycling half of “rigid plastics,” and this is almost no boost from the current rate in Toronto.

“That means companies can keep making black plastic and Styrofoam — they don’t have an incentive not to — and achieve their targets with easy-to-recycle stuff, like detergent bottles and yogurt tubs,” Alfred said.

The target for flexible plastics, including candy-wrappers, bread bags and chip bags, is 25 per cent.

“It’ll be great to have more consistency across the province,” said Alfred, “but, if the targets are low and there’s not much accountability, it remains to be seen if this will lead to a net environmental benefit.”

Yurek defended the “really high” targets, set after years of talks dating back to the previous Liberal government. Research indicates only “pennies per product” in companies’ recycling costs will passed on to consumers via prices, he added.

One unknown is how the change will affect civic workers who collect and process recyclables in east Toronto. Eddie Maraconda, president of CUPE Local 416, which represents waste collectors, said he has heard nothing about potential effects.

Matt Keliher, a city solid waste manager, said it’s “difficult to predict exactly how (extended producer responsibility) will impact the City, staffing and residents.

“The City will review the final regulation and report back to City Council with more detailed information and recommendations.”

This article was reposted from The Toronto Star: This article first appeared in the The Toronto Star, on Thursday, Jun 3, 2021.