Modernization of the Quebec Deposit-Refund and Curbside Collection Systems

December 6, 2022 | Roxane Nadeau, Adina Georgescu

On March 11, 2021, the Act to amend mainly the Environment Quality Act with respect to deposits and selective collection, S.Q. 2021, c. 5 (hereinafter the “Act”) was adopted. The Act introduced new provisions with the objective of replacing the current stewardship programs for containers, packaging and printed matters, with new, modernized and more efficient systems based on the concept of extended producer responsibility. This legislation is part of the many recent amendments to environmental laws and regulations and more particularly, follows up on the 2011-2015 Action Plan of the Québec Residual Materials Management Policy.

In accordance with the Act, the Regulation respecting a system of selective collection of certain residual materials (hereinafter the “Regulation respecting a System of Selective Collection) and the Regulation respecting the development, implementation and financial support of a deposit-refund system for certain containers (hereinafter the “Regulation respecting Deposit-Refund System”) officially came into force on July 7, 2022.[1]

The regulations add certain materials and containers to those covered by the existing systems and harmonize the materials accepted for curbside collection in the various regions of Quebec to ensure that they are properly processed. For example, the deposit-refund system has been expanded to include containers of at least 100 ml and up to 2L of “ready-to-drink” beverages, excluding dairy drinks. As for the curbside collection system, it will now include books with a useful life of less than five years and materials used to display or support a product at any of the stages leading from the producer to the user or final consumer. It will also include single-use materials or materials with a useful life of less than five years designed for the preparation or consumption of a food product, such as straws and utensils.

The objective of these regulations is to increase the responsibility of producers who market, sell or distribute printed matter or products requiring containers or packaging that generate residual materials. This goal is articulated through several obligations regarding the development, implementation and financing of these systems, and more specifically with respect to the transportation, sorting, packaging and recovery of containers and residual materials. While increasing producer responsibility, the regulations also indirectly raise consumer awareness of the costs associated with waste management. Indeed, the costs related to these systems must be internalized in the selling price. Moreover, we note an intention to encourage citizen participation in waste management by increasing the amount of deposits.

The obligations imposed on producers under these regulations are assumed by the management bodies designated by the Société québécoise de récupération et de recyclage (hereinafter “Recyc-Québec”) for each system. As of October 24, 2022, and for a duration of five years, Éco Entreprises Québec (ÉEQ) was designated to act on behalf of producers for the purposes of the Regulation respecting a System of Selective Collection while the Association québécoise de récupération des contenants de boissons (AQRCB) was designated to fulfill the same function under the Regulation respecting Deposit-Refund System.

Producers are required to become members of the designated organizations and to contribute financially to their operations and the management of each stewardship system. The transfer of the obligation to provide services previously assumed by Quebec municipalities to designated management bodies, in lieu of the producers, is also reflected in the funding model for the systems. Formerly based on compensation, we now see a shift to a funding-oriented model, which already starts in the development and implementation phase of the systems. It is also expected that waste management will be subject to greater control and transparency as a result of the accountability of designated bodies , particularly with respect to the achievement of regulatory targets.

Starting in 2026 and 2027, the regulations provide for an increase in the minimum recovery and reclamation rates to be achieved for each container or material. Under the Regulation respecting Deposit-Refund System, these rates will increase periodically to reach recovery and reclamation rates of 90% for all types of containers respectively by 2034 and 2036, except for single-use fibre  containers which will benefit from an additional 4 years.  As for residual materials governed by the Regulation respecting a System of Selective Collection, the minimum recovery rates will reach between 85% and 90% by 2042, with the exception of aluminum and soft plastics. Meanwhile the reclamation rates for all residual materials will reach between 75% and 85% by 2050.

In addition, the regulations rely on the proximity of the systems to their users by providing for minimum rates of local reclamation, that is to say, reclamation carried out in close provinces or states, with greater weight given to reclamation carried out in Quebec. We also notice the  intention to ensure responsible and proper waste management by imposing an obligation to trace waste from its collection to its final destination.

In cases where the minimum rates, including local reclamation rates, provided for by regulations are not reached, the designated management bodies must send Recyc-Québec and the Minister of the Environment, Fight against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks a remediation plan detailing the measures that will be taken to reach these minimum rates within two years, along with providing the funding necessary to implement these remedial measures. The regulations also provide for various administrative monetary penalties and offences to ensure compliance. These can reach in certain cases $1,000,000 for an individual and $6,000,000 for a corporation.

Overall, there have been a number of changes that indicate an effort by the government to modernize the curbside collection and deposit-refund systems. These changes are also in line with the objectives of the 2030 Green Economy Plan, which includes reducing waste and better managing residual materials. It is important to remember that emissions from landfills generate a significant amount of methane, a greenhouse gas. Therefore, these new regulations are undoubtedly important tools for the government to achieve its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets leading to carbon neutrality by 2050.

[1] Orders in Council 972-2022 and 973-2022 of June 8, 2022.

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