N.W.T. suggests waste recovery rules that could one day shift recycling costs to producers

Of the 1,197 tonnes of cardboard that was collected in 2021, the city said 820 tonnes were sold and the remaining 377 tonnes were used at the dump as cover.  (Liny Lamberink/CBC - image credit)
Of the 1,197 tonnes of cardboard that was collected in 2021, the city said 820 tonnes were sold and the remaining 377 tonnes were used at the dump as cover. (Liny Lamberink/CBC - image credit)

Proposed changes to the N.W.T.'s waste recovery rules could open the door for a program that would change how we recycle in the North.

Extended producer responsibility — better known as EPR — shifts the cost of recycling off of governments and onto companies by making producers responsible for disposing of packaging.

Right now, the N.W.T. doesn't have the legal ability to bring in a program like this because there's no allowance for it under current laws. However, the government is now in its final round of consultation on changes to the Waste Reduction and Recovery Act which, among other things, would allow such a program to be started.

summary of the changes notes EPR aims to give companies an incentive to make their products easier to recycle or reuse.

Dawn Tremblay, the executive director of Ecology North in Yellowknife, said such programs can help cut down on the sheer amount of stuff that ends up in the landfill.

"Anything that will enable more of these types of programs to be set up ... the better it is, because the system that has been in place — buy, use, throw out and everything ends up [in a] straight line right to your landfill — is a real inefficient use of resources," Tremblay said.

"It's much better to see that go in a circle."

Liny Lamberink/CBC
Liny Lamberink/CBC

Christina Seidel, the executive director for the Recycling Council of Alberta, said EPR doesn't change things overnight, but it does give producers a motive for improving their products.

"It makes them think about something they've never really thought about before," she said. "It's exciting to me, to see this happening in the North."

A good tool — in the right scenario

EPR was recently a topic of discussion at a recycling summit in the Yukon. Alberta recently adopted an EPR regulation; Nova Scotia has taken steps in that direction as well. B.C., Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Manitoba all have some form of EPR program.

Calvin Lakhan, a waste researcher at York University, said EPR can be "an extraordinarily effective tool" — but only if the conditions are right. It requires a recycling system that's been around for a while, is well-used and easily accessible, and has robust data, he said.

"EPR as a conceptual tool is very effective, but in the absence of those enabling conditions, it's kind of futile or impotent legislation," he said.

David Donnelly/CBC
David Donnelly/CBC

Added to that is the growing challenge of managing all the stuff we recycle, he noted — in Ontario, for instance, costs of recycling programs have risen sharply while rates of recycling have stayed more or less the same.

"The types of materials that are being sold into the market cannot be readily recovered in our existing infrastructure," he explained, adding a better way for producers to contribute is by building that infrastructure and improving accessibility to recycling.

Where does that leave smaller communities?

Most N.W.T. communities have some sort of recycling depot or drop-off location. The N.W.T. has programs in place for beverage containers, electronics and single-use bags, and recovers a high amount of those products — 77 per cent of them in 2019-20.

Seidel said programs like EPR can help get waste out of small communities. She pointed to communities in northern Manitoba that are only accessibly by ice road as an example of what the program could look like in the N.W.T.

"The producers ... have gotten together to figure out systems that they can implement jointly, and figure out how to get those materials out of those very remote communities. It's actually quite remarkable how they've done that," she said.

As for cost, Seidel pointed out that with regular recycling programs, consumers pay twice — first when they buy the product, and again through their taxes that fund such programs.

She added she has yet to see an example where EPR has led to higher costs for consumers.

"It would only potentially make a difference on bigger, more expensive products," she said.

Pending the final round of feedback, the N.W.T. government expects to introduce a bill in the spring to make the changes official. After that, an EPR program could be introduced at a later date.