Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Understanding British Columbia's EPR Regulation

Guest Blog by Sue Maxwell

Sue Maxwell is a zero waste and sustainability consultant who has worked on developing several new EPR programs in British Columbia and other provinces. She has been an active volunteer promoting zero waste solutions with the Recycling Council of BC and other organizations.

British Columbia’s Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system is an interesting one to look at in more detail as it has been used as a model for the Canada-wide Action Plan for EPR. The action plan was created by the Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment (CCME). All provinces and territories in Canada agreed to it in 2009. They agreed that by 2015, each jurisdiction would have EPR programs for a common set of products (mercury containing lamps and other mercury-containing products, household hazardous and special wastes, automotive products, packaging and printed materials, electronics and electrical equipment) and a further set of products by 2017 (construction and demolition materials, textiles and carpet, furniture and appliances including ozone depleting substances).[1]

The Action Plan specifies principles and goals, many of which were based on the BC model. The goals of the Action plan are to have programs that:
·         Move towards full life-cycle cost accounting
·         Treat costs similarly to other factors and are incorporated into prices
·         Shift the expenses from taxpayers to producers and consumers
·         Reduce the amount of waste generated and going to disposal
·         Reduce the toxicity and environmental risks from products and product waste
·         Improve the overall life-cycle performance of products, including GHG

BC has a framework regulation model that for the most part, addresses these goals. The BC Recycling Regulation outlines general requirements for programs with specific schedules for particular product categories. Most programs are held to the same standards but there can be unique requirements for product categories. Beverage containers, for example, are limited to refillable or recyclable containers and have deposits attached. When the province wishes to add another category, it adds a schedule to the existing regulation rather than needing to develop a new, separate regulation. This simpler process allows for quicker implementation for new product categories and more consistency in program requirements which also provides more certainty for the producers.

Producers are essentially the first sellers of the product in BC –ideally the manufacturers, but if not them, then the brand owners and then the distributors and retailers. For most product categories, producers have a choice to develop and submit for approval a program plan (usually as a group, often facilitated by industry associations and resulting in programs run by Producer Responsibility Organizations) or to meet strict regulatory requirements for product stewardship services as an independent producer. The BC regulation allows for more than one program for the same product category, allowing for competition or the creation of producer-specific programs.

With the BC model, it is up to the producers to develop a program that will meet the regulatory requirements. By focusing on the outcomes of the program, it allows producers flexibility in how they achieve those goals and they can better tailor their program to their specific products. For example, the Post Consumer Pharmaceutical Stewardship program has a collection network of most of the pharmacies in BC. This works well for these returned products as there are considerations for toxicity, risk of theft and privacy of individual’s information that are handled by pharmacists already and pharmacies are a natural point of contact for the consumers of those products.

The Recycling Regulation requires new programs to submit a program plan that addresses the following:
·         Stakeholder Consultation
·         Collection System and Consumer Access
·         Consumer Awareness
·         Program Performance Measurement
·         Management of Program Costs
·         Dispute Resolution
·         Product Life Cycle Management
·         Pollution Prevention Hierarchy

Once a program plan is submitted, the Ministry of Environment reviews it for completeness and may ask for revisions before approving it. The Regulation is intended to be outcomes based, rather than prescriptive so the plan should show how the program will meet the intended outcomes. The Regulation requires programs to provide publicly available annual reports and spells out what must be included in the reports. These reports must include a third-party audited financial statement for programs charging fees to members and recently the Ministry has been asking for third party audits of other aspects as well. Every five years, the program plan must be renewed in a process that includes further stakeholder consultation. Programs that do not meet their obligations can have their plan approval revoked.

The BC EPR system, while not perfect, provides a strong model for producer responsibility as was recently affirmed by EPR Canada’s recent report card where it was graded A-, the highest ranking of all jurisdictions in Canada.

[1] The territories agreed to slightly lower requirements to recognize some of the unique challenges that they have regarding population density, transport, infrastructure and supply chains.

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