The New Blue box Blueprint
Canadian Packaging editor George Guidoni talks about the effectiveness of the Blue Box program
September 30, 2019
Started up in earnest in the early 1990s, Ontario’s famed Blue Box curbside recycling program was never originally expected to evolve into a moneymaking machine—its primary initial mandate driven by an urgent need to address Ontario’s full-blown landfill crisis. And while it never claimed to be an ultimate cure-all for all of the modern society’s throwaway habits and excesses, it worked well enough at the outset to have been adopted as a general blueprint for recycling in 150 countries around the world, according to the program’s administrator Stewardship Ontario.
Inevitably, however, the program started showing signs of running out of steam in terms of its overall effectiveness, with recycling rates for household trash like newsprint, plastic and glass containers, aluminum and other packaging waste stalling in the mid-60s percentage range.
Furthermore, with many new packaging products coming on the market that were not around when Blue Box first got off the ground—think multibarrier stand-up pouches, single-serve coffee pods, combination blister-packs, etc.—Blue Box seemed unable to keep Ontario residents up-to-date on what household waste they could put in their Blue Bins without contaminating the recycling stream.
So it should not come as a shock to learn that about a third of all the waste collected through the Blue Box program nowadays ultimately ends up in the landfill anyways, according to a new report prepared for the provincial Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, which urging a substantial overhaul of the existing Blue Box ecosystem over the next six years.
Authored by special advisor on recycling and plastic waste David Lindsay, the report identifies seven key areas that the government and all other key stakeholder must address in the next six years to preserve the Blue Box program’s viability.
This includes providing a common collection system for all Ontario municipalities, standardizing Blue Box contents, determining eligible sources for Blue Box materials, setting effective design targets and, most notably, making product manufacturers responsible for bearing the collection costs of their product packaging. Whereas municipalities and industry currently share the costs of Blue Box collection on 50-50 basis, Lindsay’s report urges the province to make consumer brand-owners and manufactures fund all the collection costs by 2025.
So far, at least, the government’s response has been fairly open-minded to the idea, especially in light of rising Blue Box costs estimated to increase by $10 million each year after 2019. According to the environment minister Jeff Yurek, “It’s clear that Ontario’s current Blue Box Program is unsustainable.
“Hopefully by the end of the day we create a new economy of recycled products here in Ontario because of the program that’s going to be put in place,” said Yurek, adding this would free up precious new funding for the municipalities.
“The cost of the program will be transferred over to the producers, businesses and industries creating the waste: they will be the ones who will be paying for the recycling program when this change occurs.”
We’ll see … in 2025?