Ontario has finalized plans to expand recycling services across the province — and to make product producers pay for it.
On Thursday, Ontario's Environment Minister Jeff Yurek said blue box programs would be consolidated into one standard recycling program and that more communities would have access to recycling services.
The plan will roll out from 2023-2025 and will standardize what people can put in their blue boxes in every municipality. Right now, what can be put in blue bins differs city to city.
Yurek said by 2026, all communities will have access to blue box programs, except for communities in the Far North.
Boxes will also accept single-use products and packaging, like plastic cups, stir sticks, straws and cutlery.
The province also plans to expand blue box services to apartment buildings, some long-term care homes, retirement homes and schools.
And there are plans to put more public recycling bins at parks, playgrounds and transit stations.
Environmental groups have previously expressed concern about the program, saying that it focuses too much on residential waste, and that some Ontarians will be left out of the plan.
Currently, about 70 per cent of Ontario's waste ends up in landfills.
Who will pay
Nearly two years ago, the province revealed plans to make product producers pay for recycling programs.
Right now, municipalities split the cost of recycling with product producers.
But the province says regulations have now been finalized to move to what they call an extended producer responsibility plan (EPR), which would have product producers pay for the full amount of recycling their products.
On Thursday, Yurek said it was unfair burden on taxpayers to take on the cost of recycling programs.
Yurek said there won't be any disruption to recycling services as the province transitions, and programs like the Beer Store deposit return program will continue.
Program puts business ahead of environment: advocates
Meanwhile, environmental groups say the new plan puts business interests ahead of protecting the environment.
In a joint statement released by the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) and several other environmental advocacy groups, they say the new rules will do little to reduce plastic pollution.
The new EPR system has "low targets, broad categories and poor reporting requirements," said Emily Alfred, the TEA's waste campaigner.
"That means companies will still be able to churn out mountains of non-recyclable packaging destined for burial or burning and face no consequences."
The statement says nearly two-thirds of Ontario's waste is not covered under the new regulations. It also says Yurek indicated recycling targets were lowered afer consultation with businesses to make it easier for them to achieve these targets.
"EPR is supposed to make businesses change their practices to reduce throwaway packaging. What we're actually getting here is partial and unaccountable producer responsibility," said Karen Wirsig, the plastics program manager at Environmental Defence.
"Unfortunately, Ontarians can expect little improvement for the environment with the new program."