What you need to know about how waste is reduced, recovered and properly managed in Ontario, including our approach to a circular economy.
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Ontario strives to move towards a circular economy — a system where products are not discarded, but are reused, recycled and used to create new products.
We are shifting to a waste management approach where:
- producers are responsible for the waste generated from their products and packaging
- waste is seen as a resource that can be recovered, reused and reintegrated back into the economy
This will support the health of Ontario’s environment, communities and economy.
Our approach involves:
- reducing litter and waste in our communities through a new Provincial Day of Action on Litter
- protecting the environment
- making producers responsible for their products and packaging
- reducing the amount of food and organic waste going to landfills
- driving innovation, performance and competitiveness in the waste sector
- stimulating economic growth and development
Ontario is implementing a producer responsibility framework for waste.
Producer responsibility makes the companies that market materials in Ontario (for example, brandholders and importers):
- set up free collection networks across the province
- ensure that collected materials are reused or recycled
Over the last few years, we have focused on transitioning the existing waste diversion programs that operated under the Waste Diversion Transition Act, 2016 to the new producer responsibility framework under the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act, 2016.
We have already transitioned the following programs:
- The Tires Regulation came into effect on January 1, 2019. It places collection and management requirements on producers of all tires that weigh 1 kg or more
- The Batteries Regulation came into effect on July 1, 2020. It places requirements on producers of primary and rechargeable batteries that weigh 5 kg or less and are sold separately from products
- The Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulation came into effect on January 1, 2021. It applies to information technology, telecommunications and audio-visual equipment, which includes products such as computers, cell phones and TVs, and places obligations on all types of lighting as of January 1, 2023
- The Hazardous and Special Products Regulation came into effect on October 1, 2021. It places obligations on producers of paints and coatings, pesticides, solvents, fertilizers, oil filters, oil containers, antifreeze, refillable and non-refillable pressurized containers, and mercury-containing products, such thermostats, thermometers and barometers
Blue Box program transition to producer responsibility
Ontario is transitioning the current blue box program to a producer responsibility model. The new model means:
- transitioning costs of the blue box program away from municipal taxpayers
- making producers of products and packaging fully responsible for collecting and managing paper, packaging and single-use items
The model will improve recycling across the province by:
- standardizing what can be recycled across Ontario so that residents can better understand what goes in the blue box and recycle more materials
- accepting common single-use and packaging-like products such as paper and plastic cups, foils, trays, bags and boxes sold for home use
- collecting single-use items that are distributed or sold to consume food and beverage products, like stir sticks, straws, cutlery and plates
- expanding blue box collection to all homes, apartments, schools and specified long-term care and retirement homes outside the Far North
- expanding collection to more parks, playgrounds and transit stations so there are more opportunities to recycle on the go
Producers will also be required to meet regulated diversion targets starting in 2026. These targets will increase in 2030 and make sure that producers are recycling collected materials.
These changes, including providing consistent blue box collection in places that the people of Ontario use every day, will help reduce litter and help divert packaging and other resources from landfills.
We finalized our blue box regulation and began the process to transfer responsibility to producers on July 1, 2023.
By January 1, 2026, producers will be fully responsible for providing blue box services across Ontario. Find out when your blue box services transition to producer responsibility.
You can learn more about Ontario’s new Blue Box regulation and other producer responsibility programs by visiting the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority’s website.
Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority
The Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (RPRA) is a non-Crown and not-for-profit corporation with powers and duties under the:
- Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act, 2016 (RRCEA)
- Waste Diversion Transition Act, 2016
RPRAs responsibilities include:
- overseeing existing waste diversion programs until they are wound up
- developing and operating digital reporting services for excess soil and generation/ movement of hazardous waste
- developing and operating an online registry for producers responsible for materials under the RRCEA to register with RPRA and report on waste recovery
- oversight, compliance and enforcement of Ontario’s producer responsibility regulations
- supporting businesses in complying with regulatory requirements
- providing information to the public about Ontario’s progress in advancing a circular economy
Food and organic waste
Food and organic waste includes:
- leftover and spoiled food
- food scraps such as the inedible parts of plants and animals left over from food preparation
- soiled paper such as paper towels, tissues and napkins
- yard waste, garden waste and houseplants
Over one third of Ontario’s waste stream is made up of organic waste, including food waste and scraps. When food and organic waste ends up in a landfill:
- it breaks down to create methane, a potent greenhouse gas (GHG)
- it contributes to climate change
- opportunities to preserve valuable resources that could be used to support healthy soils, generate renewable energy and reduce GHG emissions are lost
Avoiding food waste, rescuing surplus food, and diverting unavoidable food and organic waste is both good for the environment and good for business.
A large amount of food and organic waste is diverted through municipal green bins and leaf and yard waste programs.
Food and Organic Waste Policy Statement
We issued the Food and Organic Waste Policy Statement to help increase the amount of food and organic waste that is diverted and reduced in Ontario.
The policy statement sets targets and gives direction to municipalities, businesses and institutions to:
- prevent and reduce food waste in business operations and through promotion and education efforts
- expand green bin or similar collection systems across the province
- engage in the rescue of surplus food
- support additional organics processing capacity across the province
- promote beneficial end uses from food and organic waste, including renewable energy and soil amendments
The policy statement also sets targets for municipalities, businesses and institutions to reduce and recover food waste by 50-70% by 2023-2025.
Rescue of surplus food
Surplus food is the quantity of food that is grown or made that exceeds the demand. Surplus food that can be safely donated may occur in a variety of settings across the food production chain, from the farm to manufacturing, retail and restaurants.
Donating surplus food:
- helps ensure that good food is not disposed
- helps address issues of food insecurity by providing communities with access to fresh, perishable foods that may otherwise go to waste
There are many food rescue organizations and initiatives that work across the province to rescue surplus food and redirect it to people and communities instead.
The Food and Organic Waste Policy Statement directs businesses such as grocery stores, restaurants, food processors, hotels and motels to partner with food rescue organizations to ensure good food does not go to waste.
Food rescue organizations
- Afri-Can Food Basket
- Feed it Forward
- Food for Life
- Food Sharing Ottawa
- Harvest Share
- Kawartha Lakes Food Source
- London Food Coalition
- Loving Spoonful
- MAZON Canada
- Muslim Welfare Centre
- Niagara Christian Gleaners
- Parkdale Food Centre
- Regional Food Distribution Association
- Road to Zero Waste
- Second Harvest
- The Downtown Mission of Windsor
- The Gathering Place
- Unemployed Help Centre of Windsor
Compostable products and packaging
Compostable products and packaging are a new stream of organic waste. They are creating challenges and opportunities for waste reduction and resource recovery.
As compostable products and packaging become more common in Ontario there is broad recognition in all sectors that:
- more work needs to be done to better integrate these products and packaging into Ontario’s circular economy
- new ways of thinking are required to make sure compostables can be properly managed at their end of life
We continue to develop a path forward for compostable packaging, including looking at standards and supporting pilot testing of processing so that these products and packaging can be managed appropriately in Ontario’s existing waste processing facilities.
Industrial, commercial and institutional waste
Ontario’s industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) sector includes:
- factories and manufacturing sites, such as food processors and auto makers
- commercial businesses, such as stores, restaurants, offices and warehouses
- institutions, such as hospitals, schools, recreational and public facilities
- construction and demolition sites, such as housing developments
Collectively, the sector generates a wide range of waste, such as:
- food and organic waste
- printed paper and packaging (blue box-like wastes)
- other product wastes, such as textiles, appliances and electronics
- drywall, wood and other construction and demolition materials
- industrial wastes, such as foam and plastic cut-offs from manufacturing
Ontario’s IC&I sector is an important partner in efforts to increase the recovery, reuse and reintegration of waste materials back into the economy.
IC&I waste diversion framework
Regulations under Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act set out requirements for large Ontario businesses and institutions in defined sub-sectors.
The Waste Audits and Waste Reduction Work Plans regulation (Ontario Regulation 102/94) requires businesses and institutions to prepare:
- waste audits and waste audit reports
- waste reduction workplans
- source separation programs for product, packaging and industrial wastes (that are specified in regulation)
reasonable effortsare made to ensure separated waste is reused or recycled
The Packaging Audits and Packaging Reduction Work Plans regulation (Ontario Regulation 104/94) requires specified large manufacturers to conduct:
- packaging audits and packaging audit reports
- packaging reduction work plans
You can access guidance and forms to help you with compliance by contacting Service Ontario.
Other policies and regulations covering IC&I waste
We also have other policies and regulations that drive diversion in the IC&I sector, including:
- the Food and Organic Waste Policy Statement
- Blue Box Program
- other producer responsibility programs such as used tires, electronics, oil filters from vehicles and non-refillable pressurized containers
We recognize that plastic waste from the IC&I and residential sectors is an important issue for Ontarians.
While we are taking action in Ontario, this issue is also being addressed at the intergovernmental level. We are working with the federal government and our provincial and territorial partners through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) to implement the Canada-wide Action Plan on Zero Plastic Waste, a comprehensive action plan to implement the Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste.
The Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste, approved in principle by ministers in 2018, outlines a vision to keep all plastics in the economy and out of the environment. CCME will prepare a report on implementation of the action plan for ministers in 2026.
We continue to collaborate with the Government of Canada to address and manage plastic pollution and microplastics in our shared Great Lakes waters. The ninth Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health was signed on May 27, 2021.
Hazardous waste management
Waste can be categorized into either hazardous and non-hazardous waste. It can be generated by a person or by business operations.
Hazardous waste is primarily generated by industrial and manufacturing processes. It includes a broad range of materials such as:
- materials from manufacturing (for example, waste acids, contaminated sludges and chemicals)
- biomedical wastes from hospitals and other health care facilities
- waste solvents
- waste pesticides
- polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
- industrial lubricants and oils containing heavy metals
- perchloroethylene (perc) waste from dry cleaners
- discarded batteries
Hazardous waste requires special handling when it is collected, stored, transported, treated, recovered and disposed to reduce adverse effects to human health and the environment.
Pharmaceuticals and sharps collection program
Pharmaceutical or sharp (needle) waste producers must establish a minimum number of locations where these products can be collected and properly disposed.
A minimum number of collection locations is required, based on the lesser of either:
- a specified percentage of the number of retail locations where products are sold
- a specified percentage of the total number of pharmacies in Ontario as of October 1 in the preceding year
Find the nearest collection locations.
Environmental assessments and environmental permissions
The ministry sets environmental standards and requirements for managing hazardous and non-hazardous waste to ensure that human health and the environment are protected.
Waste facilities, landfills and waste transportation systems are required to get environmental permission(s) to operate unless they are exempt. Environmental permissions set out specific operating, monitoring and reporting requirements that owners and operators must comply with.
Some waste activities like establishing or expanding a new landfill often require an environmental assessment prior to obtaining an environmental permission to operate.
Find more information on Environmental permissions.
Establishing and operating landfills
The ministry sets environmental standards and requirements, issues environmental permissions, and monitors and enforces compliance for landfills in Ontario.
In most cases, establishing a new landfill or expanding an existing landfill will require an environmental assessment. For more information, read the Guide to environmental assessment requirements for waste management projects.
We recognize the importance of autonomy in local decision making and believe that new large landfills should be located in communities that are supportive. We require municipal support for new large landfills, ensuring that the municipalities most directly impacted have input on a new landfill undertaking.
On July 21, 2020, we amended the Environmental Assessment Act to require proponents of new, large landfills to get support from host municipalities and adjacent municipalities (where there is land with authorized residential uses) within 3.5 km of the proposed new landfill site.
- this requirement does not apply to landfill expansions
- the 3.5 km radius aligns with existing setbacks for nuisance and analysis of complaints
- the province can put in place exemptions in certain situations such as a natural disaster
- Strategy for a Waste Free Ontario: Building a Circular Economy
- Reducing Litter and Waste in our Communities discussion paper
Policies, rules and regulations that guide Ontario’s approach to resource recovery and waste reduction:
- Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act, 2016
- Waste Diversion Transition Act, 2016
- Environmental Protection Act
- Environmental Assessment Act
- Nutrient Management Act
- Food and Organic Waste Policy Statement
The Environmental Protection Act addresses waste collection, disposal and environmental approvals, including:
- landfill design standards under Ontario Regulation 232
- definition, designation, exemption of waste, requirements for landfill gas collection, standards for disposal sites, the management, tracking and disposal of hazardous and liquid industrial waste under Regulation 347
- requirements for IC&I sector to reduce waste and recover resource under '3Rs' regulations: Ontario Regulation 102/94, Ontario Regulation 103/94 and Ontario Regulation 104/94
- requirements for producers of pharmaceuticals and sharps to establish free collection locations across Ontario for pharmaceuticals and sharps they no longer need under Ontario Regulation 298/12
- Ontario Compost Quality Standards under Regulation 347 and Guidelines for the Production of Compost in Ontario
- registrations under Part II.2 of the Act – Waste Management Systems under Ontario Regulation 351/12