A Different Approach To Recycled Content And The Circular Economy BY JOHN MULLINDER Recycled content is the key component in the creation of a circular economy. It keeps raw materials flowing with-
in the economy longer, reduces the pressure to extract more vir- gin materials from the earth, and delays their eventual disposal as waste. Recovering more materials for further use also creates jobs. A circular economy is something that companies and governments say they want to encourage.
Voluntary And Mandatory Approaches The strategies to encourage recycled content range from voluntary approaches through to government man- dated minimums and the threat of banning product sales if those minimums are not met. With a voluntary strategy, the government adopts a hands-off approach, allowing the marketplace to deter- mine what happens. In the Canadian province of Ontario, the paper packaging industry has gone from below 50 percent recycled content to all but one mill today produc- ing 100 percent recycled content boxes and cartons. This is presumably the type of ‘’circular economy” that Ontario wants. The “problem” is that the approach is slow. It took some 25 years to get there. The mandatory approach, on the other hand, is where the government regulates or legislates a framework of minimum recycled content targets, with fines or penalties or sales bans for non-achievement. One of the problems with government mandates, however, is that they apply only to that government’s ju- risdiction. For example, an Ontario mandate would not apply to other provinces. There may also be international trade implications for material being shipped into Ontar- io. Another complication is that most design decisions on recycled content are not made in Ontario but rather at company head office (in the U.S. or Europe) with packag- ing design undertaken at global not local (Ontario) scale. Also, the last thing industry wants is provinces or states leapfrogging over themselves to set successive- ly higher (and perhaps public relations inspired) targets for industry to achieve in different jurisdictions. A federal mandate would be preferable, but that would mean get- ting all provinces/states to agree, which may prove diffi- cult and time-consuming. Mixed Approaches Some governments have chosen to mix voluntary and mandatory approaches to increasing recycled content. They have done this by including incentives within regulat- ed programs. The choice is voluntary and at a company’s own pace.
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December 14, 2020
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