The Ontario Waste Management Association hosted an information and stakeholder session on the issue of competition under the new Ontario regulatory framework. With the enactment of the Waste Free Ontario Act (WFOA) there begins a transition to more mature, responsive and business oriented Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs – particularly with respect to competition. The event brought forward speakers from Europe, the U.S., B.C. and Ontario Ministry of Environment representatives, and the Canadian Competition Bureau, who gave high level presentations. Unfortunately, the speakers fell a little flat on presenting anything new. One of the big benefits of the day was the opportunity for so many of the people involved in development and management of EPR programs to discuss the key issues we are faced with regarding competition. Consequently providing a good start to the key discussions required for responsible EPR in an open market.
After the event, many we spoke with felt that the event was a good first step, but lacked in depth and details. To be fair, the lack of details may be due in part to the fact that the new Act has not been formally enacted. However, some attendees were hoping for more discussions, questions and dialogue that just were not forthcoming. Clearly, political, policy and commercial interests are in play with this new legislation. The WFOA presents the opportunity for the demise of the monopoly Industry Funding Organizations (IFOs), to a system that theoretically allows for greater innovation and competitive forces. Clearly the IFOs are working hard to protect their interests as well as the service providers who are hoping for greater opportunities in the market. Municipalities are also clearly energized and are more coordinated than ever allowing them to play a more meaningful and important role in helping to shape their future. It appears that after their analysis of the legislation and options, they have made a decision that competition at the Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) level is needed and moving forward with the regulations sooner rather than later is a good move.
What was truly surprising took place the next day at one of the breakout sessions at the Canadian Waste Resource Conference (CWRC). There, a consultant and MC at the previous days’ event put forward, as he called it, a “strawman” proposal. This proposal addressed one of the more challenging issues the Blue Box program will face in the coming years – how to manage the transition of the current Blue Box program to province-wide Blue Box services in an open market. What was presented to a much smaller audience was a well thought out strategy with logical principles for managing the transition process when the timing of hundreds of contracts for collection and processing services come due at various intervals over the next 7 years. Covering many of the hurdles and issues that will inevitably need to be addressed, the presentation also covered some viewpoints about what might be considered pros and cons of the approach. Clearly the “strawman” has come forward with the backing of some stakeholders who want to protect their current monopoly and proposed an approach that provides them with control of the transition. What is useful about the “strawman” is that it allows others to look at it and consider less divisive variations and options that might be able to mitigate transitional issues while still trying to solve a significant issue in the spirit of WFOA.
Other jurisdictions around the world such as Germany and Austria have had to navigate this transition stage. The Austrian model, cited by the breakout speaker, is a good example of where a single agency monopoly was able to be transformed into an open market in a relatively short period of time with several PROs all having direct contracts with municipalities, collectors and processors. Some of the subsequent questions and comments from the audience related to how other and more open market approaches might play a role in the transitional challenge.
It is too bad the “strawman” presentation was not made the day before at the competition event where there were a 100 plus attendees; many who have a real interest in this topic area. The next few months will be very interesting as more and more of the stakeholders begin to start showing their cards and developing/suggesting more detailed solutions.