New recycling regulations approved last week in Alberta could help residents save money and cut back on waste, say advocates — but they might also cost the newspaper industry $2 million a year.
The Alberta government approved the Extended Producer Responsibility Regulation on Oct. 3. The rules outline how the province’s extended producer responsibility (EPR) system will work.
EPR is a policy under which producers are responsible for the end-of-life management of the products they produce. Alberta is one of the few places in Canada without EPR for paper and packaging; as a result, taxpayers currently have to shoulder the cost to dispose of or recycle challenging items such as plastic packaging and coffee cups.
A 2019 report for what is now Alberta Municipalities found that EPR in Alberta could create about 219 jobs, add $16 million a year to the economy, and prevent another 71,900 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year — equivalent to about 8 per cent of St. Albert’s community carbon footprint, The Gazette estimates.
Jodi Tomchyshyn London, a director with the Recycling Council of Alberta, said she was thrilled Alberta had taken this first step toward EPR.
“It’s been a long time coming. We’re the last jurisdiction in Canada other than Nunavut to be looking at EPR.”
Katie Burd, supervisor of waste and diversion operations for the City of St. Albert, said these regulations could help Albertans keep more waste out of the landfill.
“As stewards of the environment, that’s where it gets real exciting.”
A look at the rules
The new regulations apply to “designated materials,” which currently include single-use products, packaging, paper products, and household hazardous waste (such as batteries and toxic, flammable, or corrosive products). They do not apply to books, health and hygiene products, products that could become unsafe due to their use (e.g. toilet paper), or anything covered by other recycling programs (such as beverage containers). Charities and producers who are below yet-to-be-specified revenue or production thresholds are exempt from the regulations as they apply to single-use products, packaging, and paper products.
The regulations ban producers from supplying designated materials in Alberta without the approval of the Alberta Recycling Management Authority (the group that runs Alberta’s paint, tire, used oil, and electronics recycling programs). The ban is backed by fines of up to $500,000.
Producers must provide free collection of household hazardous waste through depots or collection events by April 1, 2025, the regulations state. Producers must offer free depot and curbside collection of single-use products, packaging, and paper products in communities that currently have curbside recycling (such as St. Albert) by April 1, 2025, and in communities without curbside programs by Oct. 1, 2026, with curbside collection happening at least every two weeks.
The regulations require producers to meet certain waste diversion targets for designated materials. Producers must keep 80 per cent of paper products out of the landfill by Oct. 31, 2027, for example, and 95 per cent by 2033.
Tomchyshyn London criticized these targets as unambitious, noting how producers would have to divert just 47.5 per cent of all flexible plastics by 2033.
“We’re probably already meeting many of these targets now,” she said (no one knows for sure, as Alberta doesn’t track waste diversion rates by material), adding that Alberta was already beating the regulation’s target for metal through its beverage container deposit system (which had an 84 per cent return rate last year).
Tomchyschyn London said these low targets could also let producers avoid responsibility for hard-to-manage items such as Styrofoam if they could meet them without those items, putting the cost to dispose of those items back on taxpayers.
Burd said EPR under these rules should not cause a reduction in waste collection service in St. Albert, but would expand curbside collection to condominiums and apartments. The rules would not affect the city’s recycling programs until 2026.
Based on B.C.’s experience, Tomchyshyn London said EPR in Alberta would likely result in a province-wide recycling system run by one or more producer groups (such as Recycle BC in British Colombia) with one common list of accepted materials. This list should have many more items on it than are currently accepted in Alberta, as province-wide collection should give producers the waste volumes needed to make recycling hard-to-process items such as Styrofoam economical . Recycle BC accepts plastic clamshell containers, coffee cups, and potato chip bags, for example, none of which are allowed in St. Albert’s blue bags.
Evan Jamison, president of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association and vice-president of manufacturing for Great West Media (which produces The Gazette) said EPR could cost Alberta’s newspaper industry $2 million a year — a significant amount, given the industry’s poor financial state.
“We’re already having a hard enough time bringing revenue in,” he said, and these new regulations could lead to layoffs.
Jamison said Alberta newspapers had already met many of the goals of EPR in that they had well-established recycling markets with high rates of diversion from landfill. Newspapers had cut back on newsprint use through lighter paper stock and smaller print runs, and he was unsure if they could use any less without cutting back on news reporting.
Jamison called on the province to exempt newspapers from EPR as Ontario did earlier this year, noting that books were also exempt under the Alberta regulations.
Tomchyshyn London opposed a newsprint exemption on the basis that producers should pay for the waste their products create.
Tomchyshyn London said EPR should not raise costs for consumers, as recycling costs are typically less than a cent per item. EPR could let communities drop recycling fees from their utility bills, as happened in Vancouver, or divert those fees toward other waste-diversion programs. That aforementioned 2019 Alberta Municipalities study found EPR would reduce municipal recycling collection service costs by about $105 million a year, which could be reinvested or returned to residents.
Tomchyshyn London said Albertans should be excited that the province was taking this first step toward EPR.
“It’s an opportunity to make sure all Albertans have access to recycling the same materials.”
The new regulations take effect Nov. 30, 2022. They can be found at bit.ly/3rJ7UBe.