Manufacturers need to take responsibility for the items and the associated packaging they produce.
When companies make an item they wash their hands off it as soon as it enters the distribution chain.
From distributor to wholesaler to retailer not one of these entities has any idea in how to deal with any of the products that pass through their systems once that item and its packaging has reached the end of its useful life.
For example, let us take the baked bean tin can.
Fresh from some steel mill the humble can enters a food processing plant somewhere down south, perhaps not even on this continent.
It gets packed with baked beans and is then shipped or trucked to a warehouse in Vancouver or Edmonton.
Then it goes onto another big truck and up the highway to Whitehorse.
Placed on a store shelf it is then purchased by some lucky consumer.
Taken home, it is opened, the contents consumed but then the disposal issue arises.
The consumer is burdened with the responsibility for the empty can.
They didn’t make it, they didn’t fill it, they didn’t truck it up the highway but just because they were the last ones to use it they have the responsibility to deal with the can.
If they have the time and inclination they go to a local recycling centre and then pass the responsibility for that can onto the recycling centre.
Tin cans, as opposed to aluminum ones, cost recycling centres to ship south. They lose money on them.
Sometimes the consumer throws the can into the garbage and then all the taxpayers of Whitehorse get involved because they all pay for the garbage pickup and operation of the landfill.
But that is soon to all change thanks to a complicated mouthful called the Extended Producer Responsibility.
Basically, it is a vastly improved variation on the polluter pays principle.
If a company makes or sells items it must also ensure that the items or the packing the item came in can be responsibly reused or recycled.
And it is not just baked bean cans we are talking about her.
A more complicated example would be an obsolete computer.
Computer manufacturers would be responsible for ensuring that even within the Yukon there would be the means to ensure the obsolete computer did not end up in the landfill.
The computer would either be reused or recycled locally or trucked down south where this would occur.
This means the manufacturer would have to provide collection points for their obsolete computers in the Yukon and ensure they were recycled.
They could do this either through providing adequate funding for existing entities such as Computers for Schools or Raven Recycling, or perhaps through retailers where the computers were sold.
Note that currently neither Computers for Schools nor Raven accepts computers as neither organization can afford to truck them to facilities where they can be recycled.
Another option for responsible computer recycling is to provide the means for consumers to easily ship the computers through the courier or mail-delivery systems to southern facilities.
It is worth noting that something like this already exists for small household rechargeable batteries.
Manufacturers of these items have set up a group called the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation.
This entity provides postage pre-paid boxes to retailers who sell small household rechargeable batteries.
Now rechargeable batteries do last much longer than normal alkaline ones, but they do still have a finite life.
When the rechargeable one does die, the consumer can take place it in one of these boxes at a participating retailer and it gets mailed off to a central facility for recycling.
The thing is the producers of the batteries have set this system up, not the retailers or the government.
The rechargeable battery producers have embraced Extended Producer Responsibility.
The problem is in getting all products, from computers to baked beans, to be part of similar systems.
For this, government intervention is required.
Across Canada, even in the Yukon, regulatory authorities are establishing policies to kick-start extended producer responsibility.
The Yukon’s Department of Environment is going to be developing regulations to have Extended Producer Responsibility cover a wide variety of products and packaging within the territory.
This is because the Yukon is part of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, which consists of territorial, provincial and federal ministers of the Environment.
The Council is working to harmonize Extended Producer Responsibility programs across the country.
Now the big question every consumer will no doubt be asking is, who is going to pay for all of this.
The short and sweet answer is that we all do.
Going back to the rechargeable battery example, the cost of that recycling program is built into the purchase price of the batteries.
This is different from the deposit-refund system that the Yukon has on beverage containers in that the consumer is not aware of the additional recycling charge on the battery, but is when a can of pop is purchased.
Also, no refund is given on rechargeable batteries.
Another major difference is that the Yukon’s beverage-container recycling program is government run and administered.
The Extended Producer Responsibility programs are industry run.
This allows economies of scale to occur, as it doesn’t make much sense for a computer recycling program to exist just in the Yukon. It should happen in conjunction with the rest of the country.
Extended Producer Responsibility will ensure a lot more items are diverted away from the waste stream and into the recycling and reuse streams.
It will mean less items going into landfills and more resources available to make new items.
Producers will run the programs to meet government guidelines.
Consumers will possibly pay a bit more for the items they consume but every item that is part of these initiatives will not end up in the landfill.
Instead, they will be reused and recycled.
This is because manufacturers and producers will finally become responsible for all the items they make and package, even at the very end of that items useful life.
Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.