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Packaging producers taking on Blue Box program responsibilities

Producers of recyclable packaging will be taking over full responsibility for the province’s Blue Box program in the near future. Staff note this will mean some big changes for the region, including an impact on employment. Durham will continue to handle other services such as Green Bin collection.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Responsibility for the province’s Blue Box program will soon be in the hands of packaging producers, but regional staff caution its too early to gauge the full local affect of these sweeping changes.

In November 2016, the Ontario government replaced the Waste Diversion Act of 2002 with the Waste-Free Ontario Act.

Under this new legislation, producers of recyclable packaging will assume complete financial and operational responsibility for the collection, transfer and processing of blue box materials.

Producers will be required to meet ‘stringent’ recovery rates for designated products and packaging, as well as to seek new packaging approaches to reduce waste generation and educate the public, and involve stakeholders, such as the region, in participating in the new program.

When asked by Oshawa councillor Dan Carter if these changes would affect regional jobs, director of waste management Mirka Januszkiewicz confirmed there would be an impact.

“We’ve had discussions with human resources and the union. We will be working with them to make this transition as seamless and painless as possible,” she told councillors during a recent meeting.

The Oshawa Express contacted the region for comment on the potential number of employees that may be affected by the changes, and to what degree.

In an e-mailed response, director of communications Joanne Paquette stated, “staff have advised that it is too soon to assess the impact on waste management staff until we have further details.”

The region currently contracts its Blue Box collection and transfer services to the Miller Group, with processing being handled at the Durham Material Recovery Facility (MERF).

The net cost of Durham’s Blue Box Program is $7 to $9 million annually.

The new act does not include any changes to other waste management such as household waste and green bin collection, leaf and yard waste and other specialized collections for electronics and batteries.

The transition to the new program may occur as soon as 2019, Januszkiewicz explained.

“Our role is going to be to ensure that our residents are not negatively impacted by these changes,” Januszkiewicz stated.

Carter suggested the region could potentially offer its material recovery facility for utilization.

“We could offer that facility as an asset to bring in cost-neutral revenue,” he said.

This could be a possibility, according to manager of waste operations Craig Bartlett, however, he warned the facility would require “capital enhancements” before it can occur, and it is a decision the region should be very careful in considering.

Januszkiewicz agreed, explaining it would be risky because producers could potentially place blame on the municipality if recovery rates are not met, possibly leading to financial penalties.

A similar Blue Box program has been established in British Columbia and Quebec, and Januszkiewicz noted very few municipalities in those provinces have remained as a direct partner, and those who have, have only lasted a year or two.

Uxbridge councillor Jack Ballinger questioned who would “police” the program if the region is not involved.

“What are the citizens going to do now [if they have issues or concerns],” he asked. “Where do we go?”

Bartlett explained the onus would be on the producers to make sure they are meeting regulated diversion targets and giving proper promotion of the program, with Januszkiewicz adding it will not be a quick turnover.

“We believe there will have to be a time period where we see how the producers are doing. It may be three months or six months, after that period of transition…they will have to figure out how they will respond to calls.”

For Januszkiewicz, the changes are a sign the province listened to the concerns of municipalities regarding the Blue Box program.

“It is an interesting point, taxpayers are paying 51 per cent (of Blue Box costs) and the producers pay the rest. Producers’ responsibility to pay for the entire cost for the system is a priority of this council, and in the end, all municipalities,” she said. “The province listened to the municipalities and this is why we are changing the law.”

Calling the relationship “very cantankerous”, Bartlett said, in the past, producers have changed packaging in ways that made it more difficult for municipalities to process.

“Basically they’ve said we can do it better – we will get better outputs and do it cheaper.”

Ultimately, to Bartlett, Durham Region is in a strong position to deal with the transition.

“One of the reasons we are supporting a quick transition is we have operational resources,” he said. “We really see an opportunity take leadership. We want to see some return for the region.”

Furthermore, Januszkiewicz believes producers will be “looking at Durham as the poster child for the Blue Box program”.

“They have great interest in working with the region.”