Numbers are important.  Whether costs, revenues, performance, targets – most people agree that numbers are important.  Interpretation of these numbers is key; the numbers can influence decisions related to performance, investments and effectiveness among other things. There appears to be a clear trend in Canada to 100% producer responsibility for the packaging they place onto the market, often cited as the best option for producers.  Comparing different approaches in different jurisdictions may not be an exact apples to apples comparison, but it does provide insight at a high level.

Two of the provinces that have in recent years moved to 100% industry funded EPR are BC and QC.  Each represents a different approach to 100% industry funded EPR.  Both programs involve a combination of curbside and depot collection. The purpose of the comparison here is not to determine which one is better but to highlight some of the difference and interesting similarities in the numbers.  One interesting point involves the cost per tonne or the cost per capita for each of these PPP programs.  The PPP program in BC is often cited as the best in Canada.  Its costs, based on RecycleBC’s latest Annual Report, are listed as $396 per tonne and $17 per capita served, bearing in mind that Recycle BC does not yet fund recycling services in all BC communities.

Compare on the other hand the costs of the PPP program in QC, a system with strong municipal influence/control on costs where producers also pay 100% of the costs. In QC the costs are $327 per tonne and $19 per capita served. Two quite different systems, with remarkably similar costs.  There are differences between the two jurisdictions of course.  In one the mountains are higher and vaster than in the other.  While both provinces border oceans one jurisdiction has more people living on islands than the other.  Both provinces have beverage container deposit systems although the products covered differ somewhat. All of these factors impact costs as do service levels, standards and the efficiency of each system.

So what is the best model? The numbers alone don’t show clearly what the best model is. Public policy objectives and mandates among other things have a significant impact on stewardship program costs and performance.  However, the numbers between the two provinces are similar enough that one cannot simply say one is good and one is bad.  The experience in Europe informs us that municipalities always play an important role, in some cases as collectors, processors, or educators with their citizens.  The systems in Europe vary as greatly as they do across Canada.  However, immediately or inevitably municipalities always play a role.

Clearly there are a variety of factors that go into evaluating the relative performance or value of a particular system or approach.  And just as certainly one jurisdiction will have challenges different than another.  It will be important for all stakeholders to examine closely projected or actual numbers to make their own decisions about the cost-effectiveness of any approach.  Clearly one can’t ignore the numbers, any business does so at its peril.