Recycling in Vancouver and Extended Producer Responsibility through Recycle BC

Updated: Mar 29

Policy Brief by Toni Steele

Recycle BC, a packaging and paper recycling program, has been providing recycling services in Vancouver since October 2016 (1). This article will explain how Recycle BC established extended producer responsibility in British Columbia. It will first provide an overview of the recycling process in the city of Vancouver before describing and comparing Recycle BC to other Provincial recycling programs. It will conclude by arguing that Canada should build upon the successes of Recycle BC while establishing its own system of extended producer responsibility.

Overview of Recycling in Vancouver

In Vancouver, there are two different types of recycling collection: multi-family collection and curbside collection (2). Multi-family recycling refers to recycling for buildings with five or more units where recycling is brought to a communal cart (3). Waste Management is the contractor responsible for multi-family collection in Vancouver (4). Curbside collection is contracted out to GFL Environmental and is for residents who bring their own recycling out to the curb (5). The two follow the same recycling guidelines, except multi-family collection uses bins whereas curbside collection uses boxes.

Vancouver divides its recycling scheme into three categories for curbside pick up: paper, containers and glass. All of the products that can be put in any of these three boxes can also be dropped off at recycling depots in Vancouver (6). There are four designated recycling depots in Vancouver and London Drugs locations also collect certain paper and plastic products (7). Items like foam packaging, plastic bags and overwrap, and other flexible plastic packaging can only be recycled at depots (8). Information on recycling in Vancouver is accessible and clear. Recycle BC provides a detailed list of what should and shouldn’t be included in each bin, and what can only be recycled at depots on their website. They also have an app where individuals can view their collection schedule and search materials for further recycling information (9).

What is Recycle BC and Why is it Being Used?

Since 2011, the B.C. Recycling Regulation stipulates that manufacturers and businesses who supply packaging and paper products to B.C. residents have to pay for their management costs (10). This includes the costs of its collection, sorting, and recycling (11). The Recycling Regulation, which is part of the Environmental Management Act, is a way of regulating extended producer responsibility throughout all of B.C (12).

Recycle BC began in 2014 under the name Multi-Material BC (MMBC) with the purpose of helping businesses meet their obligations under the Recycling Regulations (13). It is funded by the businesses within B.C. that supply packaging and paper products to B.C. residents (14). This helps shift the costs of recycling away from homeowners and municipalities. The program services over 98% of B.C. (15). Its servicing comes in two forms: direct service and partnerships with local organizations (16). Currently, Recycle BC directly provides curbside recycling programs to 16 communities, including Vancouver (17). It works with the other communities through partnerships with local governments, First Nations, private companies, and other non-profits (18).

Extended Producer Responsibility in Canada

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is not a new development in Canada. In 1996, the Canadian Council of Minister of the Environment (CCME) introduced EPR through their Guiding Principles for Packaging Stewardship (19). In 2009, Canada also introduced its Action Plan for Producer Responsibility, which committed all provinces to implement EPR by 2015 (20). A few provinces, including Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba, have established EPR programs (21). However, B.C. is the only province with a full producer responsibility system, managed through Recycle BC (22). Full producer responsibility implies that the recycling of packaging and paper products is entirely financed and operated by producers (23). This is different than municipal reimbursement, in which local governments maintain responsibility for the collection and processing of materials but are partially reimbursed by producers (24).

Full producer responsibility EPR has transformed the recycling landscape in B.C. by turning a fragmented municipal-run system into a unified provincial network (25). Recycle BC has allowed for larger access to recycling, less consumer confusion, and overall more efficient practices due to the larger market (26). They have even reported a 78% recovery rate and an 87% recycling rate (27). Recycle BC provides an efficient recycling system that is an important step towards a circular economy. However, Recycle BC is still working towards reducing contamination rates, better managing difficult-to-recycle materials and expanding further collection of paper and plastic products (28). Recycle BC is a unique EPR scheme that has shown great promise in B.C and continues to improve its services.

The Government of Canada seeks to improve the end-of-life responsibility for plastic products and waste nation-wide. With this, they seek to create a consistent, comprehensive, and transparent EPR program across Canada (29). This was outlined in their recent discussion paper, A Proposed Integrated Management Approach to Plastic Products to Prevent Waste and Pollution (30). In essence, they seek to create a national EPR program in which the rules are consistent across jurisdictions, a program that reaches all major sectors of the Canadian plastics economy, and to ensure that companies are held responsible in meeting their targets (31). EPR is an important tool in improving recycling practices across Canada. As can be seen through Recycle BC, EPR is an efficient way of making producers responsible for the waste they produce while improving recycling efficiency. The Recycle BC system is very similar to that which Canada seeks to establish nation-wide. As Canada moves towards meeting its goals of a unified EPR system, it can build and learn from the success of Recycle BC to increase national sustainability in recycling practices.

  1. Recycle BC, “Vancouver,” Accessed December 17, 2020, https://recyclebc.ca/vancouver/.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Ibid.

  5. iIbid

  6. Recycle BC, “2020-2021 Recycling Guide.”

  7. Ibid.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Recycle BC, “About Recycle BC,” Accessed December 17, 2020, https://recyclebc.ca/about-recyclebc/.

  11. Ibid.

  12. Government of British Columbia, “About the Recycling Regulation,” Accessed December 17, 2020, https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/waste-management/recycling/extended-producer responsibility/recycling-regulation.

  13. Recycle BC, “About Recycle BC.”

  14. Ibid.

  15. Ibid.

  16. Ibid.

  17. Recycle BC, “Home Recycling Collection,” Accessed December 16, 2020, https://recyclebc.ca/where-to recycle/home-recycling-collection/.

  18. Recycle BC, “About Recycle BC.”

  19. Scott Cassel, Sydney Harris and Kristin Aldred Cheek, Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging and Paper Products: Policies, Practices, and Performance (Boston: Product Stewardship Institute, 2020), 6.

  20. Ibid.

  21. Ibid.

  22. Ibid, vi.

  23. Ibid.

  24. Ibid, 39.

  25. Ibid, 39.

  26. Ibid.

  27. Recycle BC, 2018 Annual Report (North Vancouver: Recycle BC, 2019), 4/5, https://recyclebc.ca/wp content/uploads/2019/06/Recycle-BC-2018-Annual-Report-1.pdf.

  28. Ibid, 8.

  29. Environment and Climate Change Canada, A Proposed Integrated Management Approach to Plastic Products to Prevent Waste and Pollution: Discussion Paper (Government of Canada: Ottawa, 2020), 14, Accessed December 17, 2020, https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/canadian-environmental-protection-act registry/plastics-proposed-integrated-management-approach.html.

  30. Ibid.

  31. Ibid.