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A recent study by York University Researcher Dr. Calvin Lakhan has found that the inclusion of “non-core materials” in the Blue Box system has resulted “in significant cost increases” while contributing “negligibly to overall diversion rates.”

Lakhan breaks down the difference between core and non-core materials collected in Ontario Blue Boxes as part of his recently released study, Understanding how program costs and recovery have changed over time: What does the data really show when it comes to Ontario’s Blue Box Recycling Program?

According to Lakhan, core materials, such as newsprint, cardboard, PET plastic, aluminum and steel packaging, can be affordably and easily recycled because of the recycling systems and end markets in place. 

“Non-core materials,” such as plastic film, cartons and Styrofoam, are more difficult and costly to recycle because they have “poorly developed end markets.” Lakhan’s modelling confirms this reality by showing the inclusion of these materials increased the costs of operating the Blue Box system by 29% in 2016.

If non-core materials were removed from the Blue Box (and potentially managed in a different manner), Lakhan’s findings show the program would significantly reduce costs and achieve a recycling rate of 81% (as opposed to 65%).

The paper is based on available data and readers are encouraged to consider the limits of the research before drawing conclusions. But it is of particular interest given the rising costs of the Blue Box program.

According to Lakhan’s research, the amount of Blue Box materials collected between 2002 and 2014 has increased by 13.5%, whereas the costs of the program have increased by 91% to $287 a tonne, up from $150 a tonne. 

Even when the program’s costs are adjusted for inflation, the increases are dramatic. Lakhan found that the inflation-adjusted recycling costs between 2002 and 2014 rose by 63% to $221 a tonne, up from $135 a tonne.

Lakhan’s findings raise many interesting questions for the waste management sector and the Ontario government as it begins the development of a new Blue Box regulation under the Waste-Free Ontario Act.  To see the full results of the study, click here.