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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Paths to a waste-free society? : extended producer responsibility policies in British Columbia and Ontario Meadu, Vanessa Natalie

Abstract

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) has emerged as a policy instrument for dealing with product waste by forcing manufacturers to take responsibility for these materials. It is, in effect, a market mechanism for reducing waste and encouraging more environmentally-adapted design while also shifting the burden of paying for waste off of governments and taxpayers and onto producers and consumers. This paper asks why EPR has become so broadly implemented in British Columbia, while in Ontario, the role of industry in waste management has thus far been limited to funding 50% of municipal curbside recycling (blue box) costs. The research finds that we can only make sense of current policy in light of historical decisions and debates. By conceiving waste management policies as an institution, the thesis employs a path dependent analysis to reveal how each province has followed on its particular path because the costs, both political and financial, of switching to another alternative have increased dramatically over time. The analysis traces current EPR policies back to early decisions in each jurisdiction regarding beverage container waste. BC’s decision in 1970 to establish a return-to-retail system, and Ontario’s decision in 1987 to mandate municipal curbside recycling were key moments that set the jurisdictions on divergent paths. Although the initial decisions were a product of interest-based politics, the subsequent course of product stewardship in each province has been held in place by a variety of mechanisms. These mechanisms include different constructions of stewardship, technological and infrastructural reliance, new supporting interests from policy beneficiaries, and the use of multistakeholder consultations in Ontario. All of these mechanisms have contributed to a strong status-quo bias. As a result, British Columbia has been able to build and expand upon past successful stewardship policies, while Ontario has focussed predominantly on the shared-cost blue box as a catch-all solution for waste diversion, thus precluding stronger stewardship regulations. The thesis concludes that British Columbia is better positioned to stimulate the behavioural changes needed to minimize and potentially eliminate waste. Ontario faces numerous institutional barriers, but exogenous forces may help shift the path’s direction.

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