British Columbia (BC) has the only Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program for packaging and paper products (PPP) in North America where producers have full responsibility for the financing and operation of the province-wide residential recycling system. As Ontario moves toward the transition of its Blue Box program to an Individual Producer Responsibility (IPR) framework, municipalities have looked to BC for lessons learned.
The stewardship program for PPP has been in place out west since 2014 and is run by Recycle BC, a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO). In order to gather and provide technical support on transition to Ontario municipalities, the Continuous Improvement Fund (CIF) has sought insights from the British Columbia Product Stewardship Council (BCPSC) on their collective experience with transitioning to a full producer responsibility model. The BCPSC is a coalition of local government representatives from the 27 BC Regional Districts that are responsible for solid waste management and waste reduction, recycling and reuse initiatives within their jurisdiction.
In this CIF blog mini-series, we’ll share learnings from our engagement with the BCPSC, beginning with three key takeaways below.
Changes can be challenging and modifying behaviour takes time
Consider the operational and financial impacts of a change to how materials are currently collected. In BC, glass, film and expanded polystyrene (EPS) were not included in the common collection system, post transition. If glass is collected at the curb or from multi-family (MF) households, it is collected in a separate stream, not comingled with other materials in single-stream systems and not comingled with other containers in a two-stream system. Film and EPS are collected through depots. This change had an impact not only on collection costs, but on Promotion & Education (P&E). For many BC municipalities, it took a long time to educate the public to remove film plastic from curbside and MF set outs and to separate glass from commingled collection bins. The removal of glass was one of the biggest behaviour change issues for the public, and in some areas, it took up to a year. The cost for an additional bin for glass collection and sustained P&E campaigns are examples of the types of challenges to anticipate.
Contamination abatement is resource intensive
In BC, the contamination level for all forms of collection (curb, MF or depot) is set at no more than 3% non-PPP. Contamination is calculated at two levels:
- Incompatible PPP, such as glass not set out separately, or film plastic and EPS in a curbside load when it should be delivered to a depot.
- Non-accepted materials, including non-PPP, garbage, wood, electronics, etc.
Only the non-accepted materials category is used to calculate the actual contamination rate. If a municipality is acting as a service provider to the PRO in BC, they may eventually face penalties if they are unable to bring their contamination levels under control.
Contamination abatement can be resource intensive. Understanding where contamination levels in your municipality are at today will help determine the length of time and level of effort that will be required to address it should your municipality elect to remain engaged as a contractor to a PRO post-transition.
One local government in BC, struggling with high contamination levels, responded by employing a curbside enforcement team to inspect materials prior to collection and provide direct feedback to residents.
Full Cost Accounting: know your costs, know your costs, know your costs
Begin as soon as possible to understand the costs of all aspects of service delivery. Contract administration (paying invoices, etc.), contract oversight (working daily with your contractor on service issues), P&E and contamination abatement (enforcement).
This is critical for municipalities to help them determine whether or not to continue their participation in the system. While funding was made available to BC local governments for P&E and contract administration, there was not additional funding for contamination abatement, where a municipality was struggling to meet the contamination threshold.