To: Minister of the Environment

Recycling is not free: Packagers must pay

Photo by Marc Newberry on Unsplash

The 3 R's of sustainability are: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. However, the focus has been predominantly on the third and weakest of these goals, recycling. Manufacturers have no incentive to REDUCE packaging (since they don't fund municipal waste management), no incentive to use REUSEABLE packaging, and little incentive to even use RECYCLABLE packaging.

The consumer has no control over packaging delivered, yet pays for the waste and recycling through their municipal taxes. Instead, we must put these costs on the manufacturers making the packaging decisions. The manufacturer should pay the full cost of recycling or reuse of the packaging. Certainly this will be passed on to the consumer though higher prices, but it creates an incentive to reduce packaging because doing so would lower the manufacturer's cost and create a commercial advantage for them.

As one trivial example, bottlers of soft drinks in my youth sold them in reusable containers. A refundable deposit encouraged return and the manufacturer was responsible for transporting, cleaning, and refilling them. Later, they shifted to plastic bottles that are "recyclable" but only to lower-grade products and, lacking a deposit, many end up in the landfill anyway.

Why is this important?

Plastic bottles end up in the waste stream and littering the landscape. Estimates suggest less than a third of plastic drink bottles get recycled in the U.S. As many as 34 billion plastic bottles end up in the oceans each year. But this is a solvable problem as companies like Coca Cola actually produce refillable containers in some markets. We should mandate that for Canada.

Another obvious example is food packaging -- is it necessary to package tomatoes in single-use plastic? This case is more nuanced in some cases due to food spoilage concerns. But certainly sometimes I can buy tomatoes in bulk. If the packaging cost is borne by the producer, the bulk tomatoes would have the advantage and over time waste is reduced.