The Yukon is falling behind the rest of Canada when it comes to managing its waste responsibly.
That was one of the messages that emerged from last weekend’s zero waste conference, an event that brought over 100 industry experts to Whitehorse in an effort to find ways to reduce waste.
Bryna Cable, environmental coordinator with the City of Whitehorse, said the key is to adopt the same model that’s being used across the country: extended producer responsibility, or EPR.
“The City has been calling for EPR for years,” she said.
“It’s not only the number-one priority for the Yukon government to move on. It’s really the only way we’ll move to an effective waste management system.”
In southern Canada and in many countries around the world, EPR laws require manufacturers to fund and manage recycling and disposal programs for their products.
Take the case of electronic products. When you buy a television in many Canadian jurisdictions, you’re paying an additional eco-fee – $39.50 in Ontario – regardless of the brand, where you bought it or who you bought it from. That fee covers the cost of disposal, or recycling, of the product.
But there is no EPR policy in the Yukon, and it’s putting the burden on municipalities to find ways to fund the disposal of those products, Cable said.
“Think of waste like an overflowing bathtub,” she said.
“We’ve had a 50 per cent increase in waste generation since 2000. When that tub overflows, we’re putting more and more expensive towels on the ground.
“The municipalities don’t have the ability to reach up and turn the tap off.”
Instead of EPR, the Yukon government has two stewardship programs. It requires consumers to pay an additional fee up-front on most beverage containers and some tires.
The tires fall under the Designated Materials Regulation. The title was picked so that other items such as electronic waste could be added in the future, Cable said.
But no other items have been added since 2003.
In May 2014 the Yukon’s Environment Act was amended to open the door to adopting EPR policies in the future, but it hasn’t done so yet.
“The rest of Canada is moving towards EPR,” Cable said, “and the real leader is British Columbia.”
The province has 15 stewardship programs for products such as expired smoke alarms, motor oil, batteries, cell phones, hazardous waste, toys and pharmaceuticals.
There’s also a program for packaging and printed paper, which Cable refers to as “the holy grail of EPR.”
Under the B.C. Recycling Regulation, businesses that supply packaging and printed paper are now responsible for the cost of collecting, sorting and recycling these materials.
Multi-Material BC, a non-profit organization, uses fees paid by its members to finance residential curbside recycling programs for printed paper and packaging in many areas across B.C., according to its website.
At last weekend’s conference, Cable said she spoke to a representative from the Recycling Council of British Columbia, who told her the Yukon could easily connect into British Columbia’s already successful system.
“Why couldn’t we be considered another Fort St. John?” she said.
“The fact that our government hasn’t moved on that, considering we’ve got the leading EPR jurisdiction right next door, well that’s just shocking to me.
“We need a solid set of regulations that tie us to the rest of Canada.”
Members of city council are drafting four resolutions to be presented at the Association of Yukon Communities’ upcoming annual general meeting in May.
One of them encourages the Yukon government to develop and implement an electronics recycling program.
The Government of the Northwest Territories has just implemented a similar program.
The regulations, which came into force on Feb. 1, identify a list of electronic products that, when distributed new in the Northwest Territories, are subject to an environmental handling fee.
Contact Myles Dolphin at