FCPC debate on harmonized EPR provided few solutions

1/24/2013

To harmonize or not to harmonize.

That was the question at Food and Consumer Products of Canada’s debate event on Jan. 23 at the Mississauga Convention Centre on whether a harmonized approach to extended producer responsibility for packaging would help or hinder business and the environment.

Predictably, the debate generated compelling arguments on each side, but few solutions.

Arguing for harmonization was John Coyne, VP legal external affairs and general counsel for Unilever Canada and Guy McGuffin, founder and president of G.M. Consulting, a consulting firm focused on packaging and sustainability.

Arguing against the motion was Vincent Sferrazza, director of solid waste policy and planning for the City of Toronto, and David Crump, account director with Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

With The Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson moderating, the four men discussed harmonization’s impact on everything from the consumer, the municipality, mother earth and, of course, the bottom line.

Sferrazza kicked off the debate, arguing that “harmonization for the sake of harmonization” could cause confusion among residents, which in turn, could lead to lower participation rates.

McGuffin rebutted that harmonization could actually alleviate consumer confusion. By creating a synchronized list of materials that can and cannot be recycled, he said recovery rates might actually improve.

Crump, for his part, was skeptical that harmonization was even possible. “If everyone thinks it’s a good idea then why doesn’t it work?” he asked.

Crump, who served as Waste Management branch director in Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment for almost three decades, was doubtful Canada’s provincial governments would be willing harmonize their programs.

As for the federal government, he noted it has “gone silent” on environmental issues over the past few years. To harmonize EPR in Canada, stakeholders would not only have to reengage the federal government, but also convince them it’s a good idea.

Coyne agreed that harmonization would be a difficult goal to achieve, but added he “absolutely reject” the notion that it’s impossible. He argued that putting EPR “back in the hands” of the producer would improve the environment and result in huge savings for producers that, in turn, would mean savings for consumers

Responding to Sferrazza’s assertion that a national plan “needs to recognize local needs,” Coyne advocated for a system that is flexible at the local level, but allows for “national efficiencies.”

Throughout the debate Sferrazza stated, and then restated, that harmonization shouldn’t place a singular focus on the end of a product’s life. Rather, the industry should also look “upstream” toward the producers, and ensure that packages are designed with municipal recycling programs in mind. Or they could go one step further and seek out municipal input.

McGuffin agreed that municipal input was critical, but added “it would be easier for producers to decide what materials to use if they knew what was recycled nationally.” Producers, he said, also have to compile separate reports for each province in which they sell their wares, which costs time and money.

Crump, concerned that the motivation behind a national program was more economical than environmental, said harmonization could mean developing a program that finds the lowest common denominator. “We’re not going to get everyone to agree on the highest standard,” he reasoned. So a plan will involve compromises, which will only hurt the environment.

The FCPC event was attended by about 100 industry members.

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