Environmental groups lay out concerns with province’s Blue Box overhaul

As the province begins the process of retooling Ontario’s recycling system, a coalition of 51 environmental groups are imploring them to “get it right” by making sure smaller communities, as well as industrial and commercial sectors, are included in the new plan.

One year ago, Environment Minister Jeff Yurek announced that Ontario would move toward making product producers responsible for the waste they create. 

The six-year Blue Box overhaul, Yurek said, would save municipalities millions of dollars and encourage the industry to minimize and improve packaging. 

Now, with the government well into the process of drafting the new regulations, groups like Environmental Defence, the Toronto Environmental Alliance and the Recycling Council of Ontario have released a statement laying out 11 demands.

Ashley Wallis, the plastics program manager at Environmental Defence, said she’s been “disappointed” by what she’s heard from the drafting process. 

“The thinking at this point is really focusing exclusively on residential waste — it’s potentially going to see some Ontarians not receiving recycling service, and we have some concerns about the way the recycling targets have been established,” she told CBC Toronto. 

Slides from a provincial government presentation on the regulations obtained by CBC News do not reference the recycling of commercial or industrial waste. 

Another section of the presentation shows the province mulling the costs of having recycling collection in all communities outside of the far north, as well as in places like schools, long-term care homes and condos. 

“All communities in the province should have access to recycling and diversion programs — and that includes communities in the province’s far north,” said Wallis. 

She says the environmental groups also want more of a focus on “strong environmental outcomes,” including a ban on toxic packaging and, more specifically, enforceable targets for producers. 

“If producers can meet their targets just by picking up the easy stuff, like heavy laundry detergent bottles, there might be no incentive for them to go out of their way to collect [waste like] styrofoam,” she said.  

According to the province, Ontario’s recycling rates have been stalled for 15 years, and 30 per cent of what is put in the blue box ends up in landfill.

In their statement, the environmental groups say only about seven per cent of Ontario’s overall waste is recycled. 

CBC Toronto has requested a comment from the provincial government and will update this story when we hear back.

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