A Calgary city councillor says Albertans are “paying twice” for recycling, while most other Canadian jurisdictions are increasingly shifting the financial burden from municipalities to commercial producers.
In a notice of motion coming to city council on Feb. 4, Coun. Peter Demong points out that Alberta is one of the only provinces in Canada not to have implemented a policy of extended producer responsibility (EPR).
EPR requires large producers of consumer products — including firms like Canadian Tire, Unilever and Walmart — to help manage or pay for the handling and disposal of the tonnes of products and packaging they generate. Smaller producers are typically exempt from EPR requirements.
“Right now, every single homeowner in Calgary is paying $110-$120 a year for the recycle bin,” Demong said. “The concept of the EPR is to put that responsibility for all of that recycling — pick up and handling all the way through the end of life — back on to the producers.”
Importantly, Demong said, because this policy exists in most Canadian provinces already, large producers have incorporated the costs of EPR into the price of products that are currently sold in Alberta.
“We’re already paying for that as a consumer — when you go buy that corn flakes box, that yogurt container and that bottle of water,” Demong said. “But you’re also paying for your recycling pick-up.
“We shouldn’t have to be paying for both.”
Several Alberta municipalities have joined in, calling on the province to implement an EPR regime. Demong’s motion calls for a province-wide study to look at current recycling practices, supply chains and potential impacts of an EPR program. Demong has requested $50,000 from the city’s fiscal stability reserve to cover the cost of the study.
The motion has been echoed in recent matching proposals in places like Edmonton, St. Albert, Banff and Brooks.
“It is imperative that the province understand the grassroots support for this,” said St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron in a statement. “The cities, towns, villages, and ultimately taxpayers of Alberta are the ones saddled with the costs of disposal.”
Proponents say EPR encourages businesses to better account for the full life-cycle costs of the products they create, prompting better selection of materials and more environmental package designs. Similar regimes already exist in B.C., Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec.
Implementing EPR could also save Alberta taxpayers around $63 million annually on recycling costs, according to some estimates.
A spokesperson for Albert Environment called it an “important” issue for the government, adding that the province has launched a pilot project to tackle the recycling of agricultural plastics.
“But we know there’s more to do,” Matt Dykstra said in a statement from the Albert Environment.
“Extended Producer Responsibility is one policy tool we are looking at to improve Alberta’s recycling services. We continue to work with municipalities and industry leaders to determine the best way forward, with solutions that protect both consumers and the environment. Any changes to recycling in Alberta will only be done after full engagement with Albertans.”
Demong, considered a right-leaning member of council, said EPR policies are an example of government regulation that works. “There is such a thing as over-regulation, but that shouldn’t preclude you from putting in good regulation. And as far as I’m concerned, how to deal with your waste stream is good regulation,” he said.
The southeast councillor said he didn’t start off his political career interested in the minutia of municipal waste management, but admits to having developed a sort of “passion” for it after witnessing the costs to taxpayers over the years and the cumulative impact of waste.
“By seeing how much waste we have to deal with (and) how much money . . . actually goes into this process, (it has) brought me to a new level of understanding of the waste stream,” Demong said. “And yeah, I’ve become passionate about it. I’m not saying everybody should be passionate about it, but we should all be more aware of how we impact the rest of the city.”