Ontario’s changes to its Blue Box Program: What does this mean for businesses that sell products in Ontario?
For several years, the Government of Ontario has proposed many initiatives and legislation to transition to a waste-free province.
However, recent changes to the legislation and what governing bodies oversee Ontario’s initiatives are shaking up things for businesses that sell products in Ontario—whether or not the manufacturers are located in the province.
Let’s take a look at them in more detail.
Changes to Ontario’s Blue Box Regulation
The first significant change is the Government of Ontario’s amendments to its Blue Box Regulation, which are slated to be rolled out from 2023 to 2025. Finalized in June 2022, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks issued a direction to the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (RPRA) and Stewardship Ontario to start the transition of the management of the Blue Box Program.
What does this mean for businesses? Suppose they produce packaging and products sold in Ontario. In that case, they will become fully accountable and financially responsible for collecting, recycling, and recover their products and packaging when consumers dispose of them. It is considered an Individual Producer Responsibility (IPR) plan.
The materials included in the Blue Box Regulation are mainly: glass, flexible or rigid plastics, paper, metal, or any combination of these items. The complete definition and examples of materials can be found online.
Blue Box producers are defined as any person or business that supplies Blue Box packaging (or packaging-like products made with the aforementioned list of materials) to consumers in Ontario. An important note: even if a producer is not situated in Ontario, it must adhere to the Blue Box Regulation. The regulation also extends to companies that sell goods online and ship to Ontario, drastically increasing the number of Blue Box producers worldwide.
All manufacturers that become Blue Box producers must register with the RPRA.
New reporting mechanisms for Blue Box producers
As part of the new Blue Box regulation, Blue Box producers will have to provide the RPRA with extensive resource recovery reports each year on the amount of materials they supply to Ontario markets and the amount of materials collected, processed, reused or recycled. The data in these reports will also be used to determine the level of materials Blue Box producers are required to collect and manage the following year.
Although not obligatory, Blue Box producers can also sign up with a certified producer responsibility organization (PRO). A PRO is an RPRA-certified business contracted by a Blue Box producer for data collection, management and administrative services to comply with the new Blue Box regulations. One important caveat: PROs do not assist Blue Box producers in generating their annual reports. It is recommended that Blue Box producers work with experienced environmental compliance consulting firms.
The RPRA’s deadline for 2022 supply data reporting is May 31, 2023. Subsequently, Blue Box producers must pay the program fees when they submit their reports. The RPRA just issued the program fees for the Blue Box Program in December 2023:
- Blue Box producer of 50,000 kg or less: $85 flat fee
- Blue Box producer of over 50,000 kg: $0.0056 per kg
Will reporting be enforced?
According to the RPRA, verification of supply data from Blue Box reports will begin in 2025 for materials submitted in 2024. As of the article's writing, no information has been released regarding fines or other disciplinary measures for lack of reporting compliance and consistency. However, according to environmental compliance experts, including Evnia, audits can be extremely time-consuming and costly, especially if a manufacturer doesn’t file its reports over several years.
“Ontario is not the only province with similar reporting requirements. Imagine a business not submitting these types of reports for several years. If an audit occurs, provincial legislation will require that reports be made from the beginning of the new programs. Generating all the yearly reports and paying all the fees can represent skyrocketing—and unplanned—costs for the producer,” explained Marlène Hutchinson, Evnia’s President. “Think of it like doing your income taxes each year. The numbers can really add up.”
Off-loading recycling costs and responsibilities to Blue Box producers in Ontario has been criticized by climate change advocates, environmental consultants, and waste management experts.
Some point to the lacklustre benchmarks of the Blue Box Program. Others believe the regulation will do little to stop manufacturers from producing waste in any significant way to impact Ontario’s no-waste goals. Still others believe the program’s framework and rules are simply too complicated.