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Less is more when it comes to packaging

Consumers must demand less packaging, and have less 'stuff' to curb litter problems

Maria Tzavaras
April 20, 2010

When the Toronto Environmental Alliance began 20 years ago, some of the issues they focussed on were pesticides, water quality and waste. These are still issues today.

Heather Marshall, a waste campaigner for the group, said the City of Toronto has made progress on those issues, but it can't do everything.

As people have more 'stuff,' - toys and other must-haves - they also have more waste than the word can keep up with. So despite the plethora of city programs, environmental groups and community and individual initiatives, consumers produce and use faster than they can reduce and reuse.

Marshall said people have to recognizes that fact and take responsibility.

"People are going to have to start using reusable and more recyclable types of packaging, reducing the amount of packaging they have, and that will make a huge difference because there will be less to throw away," she said.

Companies also have to think about their product packaging and what happens to it afterward simply because there is so extra. And not only fast food places, which easily come to mind as the biggest culprits of single-use waste items, but Marshall said all companies and retailers can do their part in reducing, recycling or reusing their packaging.

For example, Marshall said many cellphone companies now offer postage-paid packaging so you can send your old cellphone back to be recycled and reused properly.

Wal-Mart, after customer demands, now only sells concentrated laundry detergent, reducing plastic packaging and therefore recycling costs.

When the five-cent plastic bag law passed in Ontario, it was not only great for retailers who could recover some of that cost, but it made people realize it costs money to make a bag and it placed some value on that, Marshall said.

But this is just a start.

"There are tons of companies that don't do things like that and until there are laws and incentives, they're not going to do it," she said. "With new laws, hopefully they'll be forced to do it."

Marshall explained there is a proposed law called Extended Producer Responsibility, and the idea is to extend the responsibility to the producer after the useful life of a product and package.

"It will be a phased-in process, maybe starting with in-store packaging then moving on to recyclables, then to bulky goods like mattresses then maybe even cars in the future," she said.

If all goes well, this could begin in the next year or two at the provincial level and she said the Toronto Environmental Alliance is hoping for a national action plan as well.

Vince Sferrazza, director of policy and planning for solid waste management services, City of Toronto, said since 2003, there has been a program called the Waste Diversion Ontario, Blue Box Program Plan, which says it's law in Ontario that a brand owner or first importer of packaging has to pay 50 per cent of the net blue box cost in Ontario.

This means companies such as Coca-Cola, Unilever and The Toronto Star have to pay their portion of what it costs to manage their product in the blue box and it has to equate to 50 per cent.

"For example in 2008, blue box cost was $140 million in Ontario and the stewards were responsible for paying $70 million and that $70 million is allocated to each one of these stewards based on how much it cost to manage their product and how much of their product was brought into the marketplace," he said.

He said the province is considering having them pay 100 per cent of the costs, with the idea to get these companies to reduce their packaging or make them more reusable and recyclable.

"The more recyclable a product is, the less it costs for us to manage it," he said. "It's an attempt to try and influence packaging decisions and behaviour."

As published here: http://www.insidetoronto.com/community/life/article/802661

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