Big Changes are on the Horizon

The Waste Diversion Act (WDA), implemented in June 2002, was designed to address major recycling oversights in Ontario and further promote the reduction, reuse, and recycling of waste. Although the final chapter on the effectiveness of the WDA’s is yet to be written, many in the industry feel it has largely been disappointing.

There have been successes including shared funding of the municipally operated Blue Box programs for packaging and printed paper, establishment of new and expanded programs for e-waste, used tires and household hazardous waste that have and still are diverting substantial quantities of materials annually.

However, there have also been many negatives – the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) has stalled on program expansion as limitations of the WDA programs became apparent to them.  There is considerable unrest between the stakeholders and the monopoly stewardship agencies, unwanted media attention on program surplus’ and ‘eco-fees’, significant conflicts between service providers and the stewardship agencies, and too rigid structures that limits choice and innovation in the 3Rs – just to name a few.

The MOECC acknowledges that instead of promoting the reuse of existing materials and encouraging producers to focus on waste reduction at the source, current programs “generally focus on finding the least costly means of collecting and recycling materials.”1

The programs under the WDA appear to have had little impact on the key economic driver for diversion which is the difference between the cost of disposal compared to the cost of diversion.  The MOE has made little progress on this important economic driver.  According to the MOE, “on average, waste disposal in landfills is one-third to one-half the cost of diversion.”1 This results in a substantial amount of recyclable material still being disposed of in landfills.

According to the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO), “the Minister lacks the ability to enforce timelines related to program development and implementation and the Act provides no authority to penalize any party in these circumstances.”1 There have been many possible breaches in legislation, which have not been addressed properly. Moreover, “while the Minister may accept or reject a proposed waste diversion program, the Minister cannot modify it once received.”1 Although there have been many progressive and potentially effective solutions suggested to improve waste reduction and diversion, none of these proposals have been enacted.

In order to address the limitations of the WDA, Bill 151 was developed in concert with a new commitment to a provincial waste reduction strategy.  Bill 151 was passed in late May 2016 becoming the Waste-Free Ontario Act.  The new Act is both promising and ambitious, and addresses many of the challenges that the WDA faced. The main purpose of the Act is to move towards a circular economy by “reducing waste and increasing resource productivity”, “enabling efficient and effective collection and recycling systems,” and “increasing market value of recovered materials.”2

A key feature of the new Act is policy direction to move from mandatory compliance programs, as directed by the Ministry, to choice in the marketplace. This allows producers to have a say in who they work with and how, in order to fulfill the regulatory requirements. It is intended that these changes lead to greater competitive choices for producers, as well as more incentive for innovation and a wider variety of options.

All WDA programs will be transitioned into the new Act, essentially giving the current program an overhaul. Goals of the Act include maintaining or enhancing service standards, and broadening the scope of products and packaging that are included in the programs, as no new programs have been introduced under the WDA since 2009.2 Importantly, the new Act will provide a new oversight agency with some real authority, including harsher penalties for non-compliance.  The new Authority will also act as the entity that obligated producers will report to directly.

At the end of the day, the WDA was understood as a starting point to begin the journey towards producer responsibility. There was a requirement in place to review the Act after five years; however, it has now been 15 years since the legislation was drafted, and 14 since it was passed into law. Many critics worry that some crucial details have been left out of the latest Act and will only be settled after detailed consultation, once draft regulations are released.  One consequence of this may be that much of the municipalities’ heavy lifting will remain after the Act and its programming are implemented.  Other outcomes of the new Act will be significant changes for stewards in terms of responsibility, reporting requirements and for the first time in Ontario, they will have some choice in how they respond to the new regulations.

The Waste-Free Ontario Act will certainly address past problems and follow in the footsteps of its predecessors, that is, another step in a series of steps towards zero waste in Ontario. Only time will tell how effective the new legislation will be after it rolls out.  Stay tuned for more follow-up articles regarding the new Act as we further examine its impact across Ontario.


1 Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. (2011). “What a Waste: Failing to Engage Waste Reduction Solutions.”

2 Environmental Registry. (2015). “Waste-Free Ontario Act”.