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As Ontario works towards its promised new law on waste diversion and recycling, it’s helpful to look at European experience. The European Union has far more experience than Canada in a wide range of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) systems for waste such as paper, packaging, batteries, oil, electronics and end of life vehicles.

At last week’s Recycling Council of Ontario conference, the keynote speaker was Mathieu Hestin, presenting the European Union’s 2014 study on Development of Guidance on Extended Producer Responsibility. This study was intended to get a better overview of the implementation of EPR in Europe, identify good practices and develop guiding principles on how to design efficient and effective EPR schemes.

Despite an extensive investigation, the EU found a severe lack of comparable information to evaluate either the economic or the technical performance of Europe’s dozens of EPR schemes:

  • economic: there is a lack of transparency regarding the financial aspects (fees and costs) of EPR schemes (costs are not always aggregated at a national scale), the link between the fees paid by the producers and the costs they are supposed to cover, or general access to the financial information and flows;
  • technical: data regarding quantities put on the market, waste generated and collection and treatment are hardly comparable, being calculated in very diverse ways, with some quality issues

They did find that EPR cost and effectiveness varied widely across and within waste categories. On portable batteries, for example, collection rates vary from 5% (MT) to 72% (CH), and average fees paid by producers vary from €240 (FR) to €5,400 (BE) per tonne.
The study team concluded:

  • No single EPR model emerges as the best performing and the most cost-effective.
  • The best performing schemes are not, in most cases, the most expensive.
  • Fees paid by the producers vary greatly, reflecting differences in scope and cost coverage, or in the actual net costs for collection and treatment of waste, or both. The reasons for the variance often lack transparency.
  • There is no clear evidence of a strong positive impact of EPR on the eco-design of the products.
  • There is no correlation between cost / effectiveness and whether the EPR system is physically operated by governments, including municipalities, and/or industry.

Costs and performance are influenced by the design of each EPR scheme, but also by external factors, such as:

  • Population density and country geography;
  • Historical development of the waste management infrastructure;
  • Value of secondary materials on the national market;
  • Awareness and willingness of citizens to participate;
  • Existence of complementary waste policy instruments, especially economic instruments like pay-as-you-throw schemes and landfill taxes.

The authors make the following common sense recommendations, none of which are satisfied by Ontario’s current Waste Diversion Act, 2002:

  • The definition and objectives of EPR should be clarified.
  • The responsibilities and roles of each actor should be clearly defined along the whole product life cycle.
  • The design and implementation of an EPR scheme should at least ensure the coverage of the full net costs related to the separate collection and treatment of the end-of-life products. This includes the collection, sorting and treatment costs of separately collected waste management minus the revenues from recovered material sales.
  • The fees paid by a producer to a collective scheme should reflect the true end-of-life management costs of its specific products.
  • A clear and stable framework is necessary in order to ensure fair competition, with sufficient surveillance and equal rules for all, supported by enforcement measures (including sanctions).
  • Transparency is required on the performance and costs of EPR schemes.
  • Government and industry should be co-responsible for the monitoring and surveillance of EPR schemes, and should ensure adequate means for enforcement.that adequate means for enforcement are in place. States and dustry should be co-responsible.

Will Ontario’s new waste diversion law follow these principles?

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