Ontario Doubles Down on Circular Economy

“Making producers responsible for the full life-cycle of their products and the waste they produce will help companies to consider what materials they use in and to package their products, and find new and innovative cost-effective ways to recycle them and lower costs for consumers.”

–  Preserving and Protecting our Environment for Future Generations. A Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan, Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, 2018

The change in government in Ontario in the summer of 2018 has meant big changes in environmental policy in the province, including the controversial cancellation of Ontario’s nascent Cap-and Trade Program and the related Green Investment Fund, as well as renewable energy project contract terminations and an end to the Green Energy Fund.  The sum total of these changes have been characterized as the wholesale reversal of the prior government’s environmental program.  But when it comes to circular economy, the opposite is true.

Individual Producer Responsibility as the Answer

As made clear in the government’s new environmental policy, Preserving and Protecting our Environment for Future Generations: A Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan,  the government’s mantras of environmental program cost-cutting and Ontario-only investment have found favour with the existing provincial resource recovery laws.  These laws place the product/packaging companies, and not the financially-overburdened municipalities, as the individually-obligated parties for the collection and recycling of end-of-life materials.  The Plan unequivocally endorses this approach, highlighting the coming innovation fostered by the product “producers”:

“We believe that producers should be responsible for managing the waste they produce. Placing responsibility squarely on those who produce the waste will help unleash the creative talents and energies of the private sector.”

The Plan, like the existing circular economy laws, views individual producer responsibility (IPR), and not a regime of collectively organized producer groups, as the means by which private industry will innovate and ultimately solve much of the province’s waste management problems.

Product Standards Coming for Plastics / Packaging

Consistent with the province’s participation in the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment’s Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste (for more info, click HERE) the Plan also calls for a commitment from the federal government to “implement national standards that address recyclability and labelling for plastic products and packaging” so that the recycling technologies can be better mobilized to reduce recycling costs.  This, in addition to the implementation of IPR for plastic products and packaging, would both fundamentally overhaul waste management in the province and serve as an model, consistent with those national standards.  This is nothing short of an industrial strategy designed to foment exportable technologies and know-how in this brave new zero waste world.

Waste-to-Energy is Back

One notable change from existing waste policy in the Plan is the promotion of waste-to-energy as a back-end solution for materials not easily recoverable through other resource recovery options:

“Investigate options to recover resources from waste, such as chemical recycling or thermal treatment, which have an important role – along with reduction, reuse and recycling – in ensuring that the valuable resources in waste do not end up in landfills.”

The position of the previous government, and of the former Environmental Commissioner, was that no waste-to-energy technologies should be newly permitted in the province (with the possible exception of Anaerobic Digestion) as part of a circular economy strategy – even though such technologies have a clear role for residuals in the foundational European Union circular economy action plan Closing the Loop (for more info, click HERE).

Acceleration of Circular Economy Infrastructure  

Finally, the Plan expressly calls for the development of “sustainable end markets and new waste processing infrastructure” to be fostered through changes in applicable regulatory requirements and approvals processes.  Already, the new government has moved forward the date for the transition of the used battery program to IPR to June 2020, which is also the private sector compliance date for the province’s electrical and electronics product industries.   The transition to more IPR for other products and related wastes will soon follow, making Ontario the first place in North America to fully commit to this radically individual model of EPR.

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The Plan answers the lingering concern of industry as to the province’s long-term commitment to IPR – circular economy is to hastened in the name of cost-savings and “made-in-Ontario” innovation, a strategy agreeable across the political spectrum.

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For further information, please contact Jonathan Cocker:

jonathan.cocker@bakermckenzie.com

416-865-6908

Jonathan D. Cocker heads the Firm’s Environmental Practice Group in Canada and is an active member of firm Global Consumer Goods & Retail and Energy, Mining and Infrastructure groups. Mr. Cocker provides advice and representation to multinational companies on a variety of environment, health and safety matters, including product content, dangerous goods transportation, GHS, regulated wastes, consumer product and food safety, extended producer responsibilities and contaminated lands matters. He appears before both EHS tribunals and civil courts across Canada. Mr. Cocker is a frequent speaker and writer on EHS matters, an active participant on EHS issues in a number of national and international industry associations and the recent author of the first edition of The Environment and Climate Change Law Review (Canada chapter) and the upcoming Encyclopedia of Environmental Law (Chemicals chapter).