Extended Producer Responsibility in Canada

Winnipeg, Canada - Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is an increasingly popular approach in which producers maintain responsibility for product disposal or recycling at the end of its useful life. The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) has recently released country-wide principles for EPR, as well as two reports examining the application of this principle to new waste streams.

The concept of EPR has been successfully applied in some regions to products such as waste tires, used motor oil, and most recently, electronic waste.

Earlier this year, Ontario directed the industry-financed Waste Diversion Ontario group to develop and fund a diversion program for hazardous and special wastes from homes and small businesses. The organization currently has EPR-based diversion programs in place for Blue Box waste (paper, cans, and glass), and will add paints, solvents, pesticides, disposable batteries and used oil filters and containers over the next few years.

Alberta was the first province to enact EPR-based recycling requirements for electronics, and now levies a small charge on products so as to fund collection programs. Other provinces are following suit with programs based on EPR. British Columbia is also developing EPR-based legislation for used tires and electronic waste.

EPR programs are funded by industry, which generally passes the costs onto consumers. An ‘eco-levy’ or small surcharge will be added to a product, with the proceeds going towards publicizing collection programs, and paying for safe disposal or recycling of the items.

The benefits of EPR include a lack of direct government involvement beyond initial regulations, and the self-sustaining nature of a program funded indirectly by consumers. EPR also encourages innovation and waste-reduction by industry, as firms will seek to minimize costs associated with product disposal, and may reduce or eliminate harmful chemicals in their products. A hazardous substance reduction movement has begun in the electronics industry, in part influenced by requirements for EPR.

Canada-wide Principles for EPR

As part of its work on this growing trend, CCME has released Canada-wide Principles for Extended Producer Responsibility, after determining that national definitions and principles for EPR would promote harmonization of approaches and help provide a level playing field for application of EPR initiatives across the country.

Canada ranks as one of the highest producers of solid waste per capita in the world, notes CCME. The latest survey by Statistics Canada shows that in the year 2002 just over 32.4 million tonnes of waste were managed in Canada with only 25% of this being recycled or reused.

The overarching goals of the principles are to minimize environmental impacts, maximize environmental benefits, promote the transfer of end-of-life responsibility for the product and/or material to the producer, and encourage ‘design for environment’. Design for environment examines a product’s entire lifecycle and proposes changes to how a product is designed in order to minimize its environmental footprint. Incorporating environmental design may contribute to natural resource and energy conservation, biodiversity preservation, source reduction, waste minimization, and pollution prevention.

The CCME recommended principles for EPR include:

  • Programs are consistent with the 4R waste management hierarchy (reduce, reuse, recycle & recovery;

  • encourage producers to incorporate design for environment to minimize impacts to environment and human health;

  • transfer end-of-life responsibility for waste product or materials to producers from municipalities and other waste management authorities;

  • policy instruments selected are flexible and determined on a case-by-case basis;

  • costs of program management are not borne by general taxpayers; and

  • Consumers have reasonable access to collection systems without charge, to maximize recovery opportunities.

CCME concurrently released two further reports prepared by Marbek Consultants: an Analysis of the Free-Rider Issue in Extended Producer Responsibility Programs and a Summary Report from the National Packaging Workshop in Toronto in March 2007.

Free-riding in EPR

In the first report, Marbek discusses the issue of “free riding: - where one firm (or individual) benefits from the actions and efforts of another without paying or sharing the costs. The report identifies the common causes of free-riding in Canadian EPR programs, including:

  • Jurisdictional authority limitations
  • Lack of regulatory backdrop
  • Lack of enforcement
  • No brand owner identified
  • Multiple players/data availability
  • Systems based solely on fees at point of sale
  • Program design.

Marbek concludes that extent of the free-riding issue and the causes vary across programs in Canada. In the majority of programs reviewed, it is considered a minor issue. In others, the scale of the problem is somewhat greater. Although it is possible that the scale of free riding could threaten the financial viability of an EPR program, this is currently not the case in most Canadian programs.

However, the report notes that significant equity concerns were obvious in all free-rider situations reviewed regardless of the scale of the problem. Addressing free-riding is somewhat easier in programs that target single category packages (for example, single packaging such as beverage container deposit-return systems) rather than in programs that involve multiple types of packaging or products.

National Packaging Workshop

On March 12th and 13th, 2007 a national workshop took place in Toronto, Ontario, focused specifically on packaging issues and the potential CCME role. Hosted by CCME and the Ontario Ministry of Environment, the workshop sought the engage a diverse group of stakeholders and identify possible CCME contributions on sustainable packaging.

The workshop consisted of a series of presentations and discussion addressing the following session themes: sustainable packaging, policy directions, packaging stewardship funding models, green procurement, measuring progress, and the federal role.

Following the workshop, the following recommendations were made to CCME:

  • CCME should take a leadership/facilitation role in encouraging sustainable packaging in Canada.

  • CCME should develop and lead a national process for the development of a long-term strategy to achieve sustainable packaging, including stakeholder based development of definitions, vision, standards, and (perhaps later) targets and tools. The process should consider and respect differences that exist in existing programs, and should only proceed if provinces commit to the process so that it will make a difference.

  • CCME should immediately initiate work in selected “Quick Win” areas (short term actions) as outlined in the report.

The Canada-wide Principles for EPR, as well as the workshop summary and free-rider analysis, are available for download here.

For More Information: Can Council Ministers of the Environment

You can return to the main Market News page, or press the Back button on your browser.