Recycling to transfer from County to Producers

Last August, the Province announced a new recycling program that will improve its effectiveness and will transfer responsibility from municipalities to the “Producers”, that is to the companies that design, create and market packaging, paper and paper products.  The program should reduce the amount of plastic finding its way into waterways and oceans and will be phased in between Jan 2023 and December 2025.  When operational, the cost of all recycling will transfer away from the County and save almost $3M per year.  At their next Council meeting on 17 June, County Council will be asked to approve a staff recommendation to begin the transition on 1 January 2023 and to adopt Option 2 of three alternative scenarios.  More detail below.

The reason for the early date is to enable the sale of the MRF (Material Recovery Facility) in Grafton to a Producer entity who will be doing recycling and also to realize savings as soon as possible.

To be clear, the companies producing the waste will be responsible for recycling it – including the cost of doing that.

Work is in three phases:

  1. Wind-up plan to be submitted to the Province by 31 August 2020 and approved by the end of 2020.
  2. Planning, preparation and development of an implementation plan over the period of January 1, 2021 through to December 31, 2022.
  3. Transition phase planned to be implemented and expected to commence no sooner than January 1, 2023 and be completed by no later than December 31, 2025


Recycling boxes
Recycling boxes

All municipalities with a population more than 5000 are required to have Blue Box and Yard waste programs.  As a result, there are 240 separately designed and managed Blue Box Recycling programs in the Province. Up to 30% of Blue Box content ends up in landfills.  In 2016, the Waste-Free Ontario Act required producers to be responsible for their products and accountable for recovering resources and diverting their materials from landfill.

In 2018 and 2019, this was taken further with the following objectives:

  • Standardization across the Province of what can be recycled in offices, parks, public spaces and homes;
  • Improve diversion rates and increase what materials can be recycled;
  • Reduce litter and waste in communities and parks;
  • Improve Ontario’s Blue Box program by requiring producers to pay for the recycling of the products they produce, through achieving producer responsibility; and
  • Maintain or improve frequency of Blue Box collection.

The three implementation options considered by staff were (summarized):

  1. No Longer Providing Blue Box Recycling Services – that is, sell the MRF and do none of the services related to Blue Box recyclables.
  2. Continue to Provide Collection, but Cease MRF Operations – that is, sell the MRF but continue to administer and oversee a contract to have Blue Box recyclables collected from residents. Some efficiencies gained with one large collection contract for Recyclables, Organic Waste, and Leaf & Yard Waste versus a collection contract that did not include the collection of Blue Box materials.
  3. Continue to Provide Collection and Processing of Blue Box Material. The County would bid on, and compete against the private sector for a processing Contract, and that contract would also likely require the County to process more than just recyclable materials from within the County. The County would have to enter into a contract with Producers and assume the risks associated with the terms and conditions of that contract.

It was noted that Options 1 and 2 would lead to the loss of 30 full time and 11 part time positions.  If the MRF is sold as an operating entity, many of these jobs might be saved.  This is one reason to transition early so that the MRF could be sold as an operating entity instead of being dismantled.

Staff recommend that the transition begins on 1 January 2023 and to adopt Option 2.  County Council will approve this (or not) at their meeting on June 17.

The transition date is not firm – it would be a recommendation/request to the Province.

Also note that this change will not affect garbage collection – only recycling.


Update – 17 June 2020

At the County Council meeting on 17 June 2020, some items were clarified:

  • The Council motion simply expresses preferences and intention and is not binding.  Producers and the Province will have the final say.
  • Option 1 where the County fully exits recycling is entirely under the control of the County but Options 2 and 3 depend on successful negotiations between the County and the Producers.  So the County does not in fact have any guarantee that their preference will be honoured.
  • There would be no penalty for any changes to current contracts that the County has with recycling contractors.
  • The MRF is significantly smaller than usual for such facilities (a ratio of 18 to 50) so the MRF may not be attractive to a potential buyer. Also private wages are lower than paid by the County.
  • Current MRF employees have been notified of what’s happening.
  • Council passed the recommended motion with Option 2 but understands that if negotiations are not successful, then Option 1 will be the fall back.

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16 June 2020 5:20 pm

I have often wondered why we do not have returnable jars for many food products. Beer bottles have been returnable for … a long time. Jam and pasta sauce jars, for example, could be reused. Maybe it is the volume of beer bottles that make it possible. Standardizing jars could help. There are many grocery store products that could be packaged in glass jars instead of plastic. Wine and alcohol bottles get returned (by the buyer of the product or people going through garbage bins). I think that requiring producers to pay for the recycling will reduce the amount of packaging, increase the packaging that requires a deposit, and/or increase the cost of products. Ultimately we all pay for recycling either with higher product prices or taxes. Am I right that currently property taxes pay for recycling? Will our property taxes be decreased once the producers start paying?

Last edited 2 years ago by Kevin
Ken Strauss
Reply to  Kevin
17 June 2020 6:10 pm

I don’t understand recycling of glass. At great effort (and energy usage) consumers wash glass containers and transport them to a recycling centre. To actually reuse them they must be sorted according to colour and size and shape, have labels removed, be inspected for damage and sterilized. There is nothing particularly valuable nor harmful in glass — the main ingredient is sand! What is the benefit other than to make some unthinking people feel good?

Last edited 2 years ago by Ken Strauss
Reply to  Ken Strauss
18 June 2020 11:48 am

Ken – recycled glass, broken and otherwise, is a raw material in the manufacturing of new glass. Also, in some “food safe” glass other ingredients are used which are more than just sand. All this to say, recycling glass remains a good idea.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Rob
18 June 2020 12:20 pm

Saying something doesn’t make it true. Can you provide quantitative data to show that there is a net environmental or economic benefit from recycling glass?

Reply to  Ken Strauss
18 June 2020 1:54 pm

Perhaps you missed the first sentence Ken….the recycled material is also used to process the NEW material…hence the usefulness of the recycled material. I’m saying it because its true not the other way around….

A few harmful additives are used in processing some glass…

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Rob
19 June 2020 9:09 am

Perhaps you missed the second sentence ROB:

Can you provide quantitative data to show that there is a net environmental or economic benefit from recycling glass?

The question was not is the recycled material used to make NEW material but whether, if all costs are considered, is there a net benefit to recycling glass?

Reply to  Ken Strauss
19 June 2020 7:39 am

I agree that glass containers have to be sorted, inspected cleaned, transported … all requiring energy. To make glass from sand requires energy. Is there an energy benefit to reusing? Beer bottles have been reused for decades in Canada. My guess is there was an economic benefit at one time. Maybe it was to keep broken bottles off the roads to help protect horses feet. Interestingly in the US reuse is not very common but might be making a come back.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Kevin
19 June 2020 9:14 am

My guess is that there are several benefits to recycling beer bottles:

  1. Keeps broken bottles off the road sides
  2. Employment for additional unionized staff
  3. Makes a certain group feel good about “doing something”

If recycling were truly an economic idea a deposit would not be required; beer companies would pay for the bottles that are returned and there would be no government intervention required.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
19 June 2020 11:18 am

Ken – do you struggle with accepting that landfill diversion is an important driver for recycling? Where do you think waste goes if recycling doesn’t take place? Recycling really isn’t an economic idea but economic ideas have certainly been born out of recycling.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Rob
19 June 2020 12:41 pm

Rob — landfill diversion is important if that which is diverted is hazardous waste. Glass is non-toxic and doesn’t produce noxious decomposition products that might leach into ground water. Perhaps the solution is to separately dispose of glass versus other materials.

I don’t understand your last sentence. Could you please explain and provide examples?

Reply to  Ken Strauss
19 June 2020 1:44 pm

Oh Ken, I so hope you’re simply attempting to be intentionally antagonistic (lol) ….

Have a wonderful weekend.

Reply to  Kevin
23 June 2020 2:18 pm

I dunno about this. So County saves 3M$, great; this saving will be redirected to some other purpose and therefore no saving to the taxpayer. Garbage will continue, but will the fees/bag go up because there is no offsetting recycling-revenue stream? Further since it is the Province (and Producers) calling the shots will there be a new Provincial Gov office set up/staffed to monitor this province wide initiative, thus increased hit to taxes? Finally I don’t believe in the slightest that producers (still to be defined) will be absorbing the full hit of the costs “requiring producers to pay for the recycling” there will have to be some kind of offset/kickback to them. The net is I predict increased costs to the taxpayers of the County and Cobourg specifically.

Old Sailor
16 June 2020 2:14 pm

It is difficult to envisage a “happy ending” for Cobourg taxpayers in this new recycling program – turning over management of recycling from our elected officials to public companies with quarterly earnings per share reports to defend. Hopefully I am missing something on how our downside risk is protected. Perhaps we should just lease the Grafton Facility to the new owners and cancel their lease if this just doesn’t work out. Then we still own the facility.

Reply to  Old Sailor
19 June 2020 4:36 pm

DON’T FORGET us Rural folk!

Merry Mary
16 June 2020 12:58 pm

This is a highly complex issue. Many people, myself included, take pride in the materials that they collect and prepare for recycling. We think of all of the newly generated products that have been purchased through the “cottage industries” that have created them. There is no easy solution to this dilemma, although option 3 is the preferred one.

15 June 2020 9:11 pm

Very concerning mention in the staff report about the benefits of selling the MRF. The location of the facility described as being part way between Toronto and Kingston, and with lands to expand operations. Will there be plans to import waste product for recycling and where will rejected material go, I wonder?
Also, I am interested in the supporting legislation aimed at the ‘producers’. Some materials, e.g. ‘plastics’, that used to be simpler and would normally be recyclable are now composites with other materials that can make the product overall difficult if not impossible to recycle properly. It becomes waste. Where is the legislation to make the producers of packaging responsible before the consumer buys it and has to sort it before hauling it to the curb? Of course, there will still be a need for recycling. Producers need to reduce packaging and adhere to full cycle consideration including manufacture and recycling.
This proposal does seem too much like a privatizing initiative of a local essential service that may expand beyond our own county boundaries in order to make it economically feasible for investors. I hope I am wrong.

Reply to  MiriamM
16 June 2020 11:00 am

Excellent points. The manufacturers producing all this waste are going to do everything they can to avoid having to take responsibility for it.

15 June 2020 6:18 pm

If the problem is that certain distant jurisdictions dump or plow their garbage into the nearest river, then changing our ways here in Canada would be a waste of effort.
The first step in solving a problem is to define the problem.

Reply to  JimT
16 June 2020 8:05 am

I agree as long as Soft- touch Trudeau doesn’t feel like buying him self another seat on some council by giving more Canadian $$$ away to another country that just does not care about the same things we do
or have the politicians with the drive and ambition to make things better on their own