By Stephen Petrick
Municipal taxpayers in Haliburton County may not be paying much – if anything at all – for recycling collection as soon as 2024.
A daunting transition to put the onus of blue box collection on producers of recycled products is underway province-wide, meaning municipalities might get a financial break, but they’ll still have big decisions to make if they wish to contribute to environmental cleanliness.
Haliburton County councillors heard about the plan in a lengthy delegation at their June 8 meeting.
“Your councils need to start talking about ‘what will transition for your municipalities look like?” said Peter Hargreave, a consultant helping the Association of Municipalities of Ontario’s waste diversion department. “Do you want to play in a role in service provision?”
All four Haliburton County municipalities are expected to be relieved of managing recycling initiatives in 2024; Dysart et al and Highlands East on Jan. 1; Algonquin Highlands on March 31 and Minden Hills on Oct. 1.
Hargreave pointed out that when blue box programs came about, experts assumed it would be lucrative for municipalities, as they would collect recycled products, like paper and metal, and sell the materials to generate revenue.
But those profits never materialized and eventually municipalities made a “shared-responsibility” agreement with producers, meaning the two groups split the costs of recycle collection programs.
Now that model is about to change, too.
Hargreave showed a slide which revealed that waste diversion in the province has dropped steadily over the years, while the costs of collection programs, province-wide, has increased steadily, from just under $280 million in 2008 to more than $360 million in 2018.
The plan to put more onus on producers started in 2016 with Ontario’s passing of the Resource Recovery & Circular Economy Act. Some municipalities will start the transition of handing over their programs in mid 2023. New standards on what can be recycled and new targets for collection volume will also be phased in throughout this decade.
Hargreave said the producers are looking for municipalities to make decisions on how much they want to help with future blue box collection this summer, given that a municipal election is coming in the fall.
Haliburton County municipalities, he suggested, have decisions to make, since most residents in the area deliver their recycled materials to landfill sites. The municipalities could choose to sign contracts with producers to have them pick up materials from their sites, but they can also opt not to, in which case producers would still have to make a plan to ensure residents have recycling service.
“It may mean they need to go to a different location for blue box materials (drop off),” Hargreave said. “So there are some potential changes that could come into place. But the requirement for those producers is to match what garbage collection is within your boundaries.”
The delegation raised some questions among councillors, mostly logistical ones.
But Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt made it clear she was skeptical of the plan, saying that since producers are in “the driver’s seat” they could make decisions that would force the municipality to make choices on short notice.
“The choice is like hanging or shooting. We’re under the gun to make choices in a short timeline that are going to cost money.”
Hargreave responded by saying that the intention of the reform is to save municipalities money and if a producer is unwilling to travel to a rural landfill site, they’ll have to make their own plan to offer recycling services within the municipality.
“There should be no costs to municipalities moving forward,” he said. “The question for municipalities is, ‘do you want to play a role and if you do what role is that?”