The Alberta government is launching consultations to design a program that aims to reduce landfill waste by transferring recycling costs to companies, Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon announced Wednesday.
Speaking at the Rural Municipalities of Alberta’s spring convention, Nixon said the implementation of an extended producer responsibility program (EPR) will encourage companies to produce less waste and packaging, and come up with innovative ways to recycle more materials.
The program would transfer the cost and management of recycling away from municipalities and taxpayers, he said, and to the companies that are directly producing and consuming goods.
“The launch of today’s stakeholder engagement will set the stage to keep plastics out of landfills longer, and ensure Alberta is a strong leader in environmental stewardship,” Nixon said.
Consultations to inform the program will start immediately and run until April, and will be held with municipalities, industry experts and Indigenous communities through stakeholder meetings.
The public will be able to engage through an online survey.
“While we all agree that an EPR program is good for Alberta, there are numerous design elements that need practical advice from municipal leaders and others,” said Nixon.
Program ‘sensible and sustainable’: recycling authority
According to the provincial government, Albertans send 1,034 kilograms per person of waste to landfills annually, and packaging and printed paper make up 15 to 20 per cent of that waste.
Ed Gugenheimer, the CEO of Alberta Recycling Management Authority, said in a press release that EPR programs can help to bolster sustainability.
“Extended producer responsibility initiatives like this one use sensible, sustainable plastics diversion and recycling strategies for economic growth,” said Gugenheimer.
Briana Loughlin, the co-founder of the non-profit organization Plastic Free YYC, said an EPR program is a good start — but feels Alberta has a long way to go in regards to waste management and environmental initiatives.
For example, she would like to see Alberta embrace reusable items or products that don’t create waste.
She also said that she looks forward to seeing what actual actions come from Wednesday’s announcement.
“It’s very exciting to finally hear our provincial government stating that they’ll take some actions toward plastic waste,” said Loughlin.
“I think that the biggest challenge here is making sure that our provincial government does actually work with the federal government and all the municipalities in making a more collaborative plan.”
EPRs can cause inflation, experts say
Some experts have also said the programs can result in inflation.
Calvin Lakhan of York University studied EPRs for years, and told CBC News in 2019 that companies sometimes build the cost of recycling into their products.
But the increase is often so minute that consumers don’t notice.
“Municipalities are often service providers and have traditionally paid the cost of recycling. Through EPR, that cost is then transferred onto the producer,” he said.
“But what happens is that producers will then build that cost into their products. So ultimately the consumers end up paying the final bill for recycling.”
Nixon said the government’s framework for the program should be ready this fall, and will include legislative changes needed for it to take place.
He also said that Alberta does not have plans to ban plastic bags or packing — measures undertaken by provinces including Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
“I’m making it clear that we have a waste problem, not a product problem,” he said.