The Recycling Council of Ontario (RCO) held one of its workshops last week called ‘Advancing the Circular Economy’. As advertised, it was a description of how Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs work in three EU jurisdictions – Austria (packaging), England (packaging, waste electronics, batteries, vehicles), and Ireland (waste and electronics). Austria has been touted recently by some Ontario ‘pundits’ as a good example for Ontario to follow for the transition of programs under the Waste Free Ontario Act (WFOA).
Some things we learned about the Austria system:

  • The presentation was from the CEO of Verpackungskoordinierungsstelle (VKS) – the government agency oversight body that coordinates the interests of the parties involved in the collection of packaging waste. VKS was started in January 2015 with the advent of more open competition in Austria.
  • The presentation was from the data and opinions of VKS and did not include input from any other key stakeholders, although assistance to explain certain points of the system was provided by Dr. Fritz Flanderka of Reclay Group – one of the PROs operating in Austria and Germany.
  • VKS key activities in the transition included:
    • A coordinating role for the PROs and municipalities, e.g., communications;
    • A clearinghouse for calculating the quantities of material by producer to define the payments to municipalities;
    • Determining the producer fees;
    • Collecting fees and administers projects for waste prevention projects that include more than just packaging; and
    • Monitor that there is fair competition in the sector.

Some comments and answers to questions from the audience that were interesting included:

  • Even though it is a limited competition system, it appears to be working.
  • ARA, the previous monopoly and now the dominant, but not only service provider, seems to have improved its service (from anecdotal accounts).
  • The Austrian government wants and is looking into ways to increase competition.
  • Municipalities are choosing to operate their system themselves or contract out based on what is financially best for the municipality.
  • Material recovery targets are the same everywhere even though the demographics, population density and collection systems can be different.

Recognizing that the Austrian system move to a competitive framework is relatively new and not much data is available, it would certainly have been interesting to hear from other key stakeholders to get their opinions as to how things are going in the transition, and what some of the successes and challenges are. Doing some investigation with the other stakeholders and getting their input into these types of specific questions could be very helpful for Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) and its transition planning.  This kind of comprehensive information would also be helpful for all stakeholders, as MOECC has committed to having stakeholders be a real part of the transition planning process. Like any successful transformation to a competitive environment, these program transitions must include producers, industry associations, service providers, current Industry Funded Organizations (IFOs) and municipalities.  The transition to a competitive environment is expected to provide producers with choice that can lead to better service, lower costs and greater innovation.

We will be commenting on the other jurisdictions that were at the event in following blogs.