Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/8/2015 (2223 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Visitors to Manitoba, in the heart of Canada, are lucky to experience the province's unique and intimate blend of nature and industry, culture and industry, learning and relaxation. And they will also, quite uniquely, encounter frequent, large and colourful advertisement alongside roads, urging consumers to recycle their beverage containers. They are everywhere.
Manitoba used to be a noticeable laggard in the collection rate for these containers. No more. Progress in the past five years alone has been swift, pulling rates within close reach of those in other provinces. There is every reason to believe that this upward swing will continue.
While the advertising no doubt helps instill in consumers the awareness of recycling options, Manitoba's system is built on much more than this consciousness-raising exercise.
Manitobans encounter an expanding array of recycling bins across the province, facilitating disposal and recovery of their containers wherever they happen to be. This distinguishes the system in Manitoba from the deposit-return system in place in a number of many other provinces.
It might come as a surprise to some that this new system is wholly industry-run. The non-profit Canadian Beverage Container Recycling Association collects fees from beverage producers to cover the costs of recycling their containers. It also funds industrial, commercial and institutional sector recycling programs, as well as some of the provincewide curbside programs. In turn, some of the costs are passed on to consumers via a visible, two cents levy on beverage containers.
This system emerged with an eye to improving recycling rates at a reasonable cost. Since it's now paying for and running the program directly, industry has built-in incentives to meet recovery targets for these containers in a way that minimizes the costs of operating the system. Not only is this new approach more efficient, but it's also fairer. Recycling costs are now borne by consumers and producers of beverage containers, instead of taxpayers.
The program has also been successful in showing deposit-return systems, which have been criticized for their complexity, and lack of convenience, aren't the only way to raise recycling rates.
The concept of Extended Producer Responsibility -- under which the party or company that produces a good is responsible for the waste it creates -- is a sound one to follow on environmental management. The logical extension of this principle is to give businesses the freedom to work out how to meet agreed-upon recovery targets in their own ways. No more forcing them to join particular organization or use certain collection, processing, or disposal services. This is what has been successfully implemented in Manitoba.
Other provinces might do well to allow their producers the same kind of freedom to innovate in the pursuit of common recycling objectives. In Ontario, for example, the municipalities each send the provincial government a bill for the year's recycling costs. The government then turns around and bills private sector representatives for 50 per cent of these costs. But industry has almost no input into how recycling is handled, and no ability to try and reduce their costs by improving it. It's therefore no surprise that recycling rates there haven't improved for a decade.
British Columbia has made a big push for extended producer responsibility in the past year, and a program in Saskatchewan may also launch soon if it can work out some of its birthing pains. There are rumblings in Atlantic Canada of an interprovincial program. And Ontario, despite a recent legislative flop, may see its own recycling system overhauled in the fall.
As they revamp their recycling regimes, other provinces would do well to learn from the experience of Manitoba. Allowing not-for-profit industry associations to run recycling programs aligns responsibility for the financial and physical recovery of recyclable materials where it belongs: with producers and consumers.
Daniel Schwanen is vice-president of research, and Aaron Jacobs is a researcher at the C.D. Howe Institute. See more at wfp.to/xIt.