The Critical Role of Harmonized Recycling Policies in Belgium and Canada

Posted on June 13, 2024

Angelo Bakoulas & Jean-Sébastien de Halleux

This post has been authored as part of the Peer Mentorship Programme by the Global Communications Alliance (GCA), an initiative aimed at sharing best practices between agencies, fostering the creation of new ideas, and introducing fresh perspectives. The post was collaboratively written by team members, Angelo from Bluesky Strategy Group (Canada) and Jean-Sébastien from Whyte Corporate Affairs (Belgium).

Did you know that the path to environmental sustainability is paved with disparate recycling policies? Belgium and Canada’s journey illustrates the global challenge of harmonizing these efforts. The pivotal issue of environmental sustainability, especially within the context of the circular economy and daily plastic usage, has been a critical global concern for decades. While international efforts are deployed by organizations such as the UN and the EU, as well as global leaders, the practical implementation of recycling policies often relies on decisions made at local, regional, or even municipal levels. In fact, even amongst areas which vary vastly in size and population density like Canada and Belgium, the problems of regional jurisdictions controlling and politicizing recycling are remarkably similar.

Challenges in Canada

In Canada, the vast differences in size and policy priorities among provinces and territories present unique challenges. Despite a shared commitment to establish modern recycling programs, each province has adopted distinct approaches. A concrete example is the ongoing legal dispute before the federal court regarding the ban on single-use plastics, with certain provinces actively expressing opposition to these federal initiatives. This disharmony is also evident in the establishment of regional recycling systems, where the contributions of businesses and the coverage of each system vary from one province to another, creating inconsistency in waste management and causing instability for companies operating across Canada.

Belgium’s Complex Landscape

In Belgium, realities are equally complex. Despite their modest size, the three regions exhibit significant divergences. Belgium has been debating how to implement a deposit system that fights littering without harming its highly effective collection, sorting, and recycling of household packaging. This system is among the best in Europe. Furthermore, Wallonia recently took the initiative to impose an additional tax on litter to address this issue, emphasizing the individual initiatives of regions. While the regions have agreed on a common deposit system, differences persist in practical details between a traditional system, a digitally intelligent system complementary to the current one but still in the testing phase, or another more hybrid model. These differences highlight the complexity of coordination.

Calls for Harmonization

It is then no surprise that the business sector across both countries is calling for policy harmonization to ensure a coherent and effective approach. However, the complex political reality makes this task challenging. Growing public pressures demand action, yet federal and provincial governments often adopt conflicting policies. It is imperative to recognize that resolving these challenges requires close cooperation across all levels of government, businesses, and citizens. Harmonizing regional policies becomes a crucial step toward achieving tangible results in waste management and recycling.

The Importance of International Cooperation

Furthermore, the need to consider neighbouring countries is essential. For both Canada and Belgium, a shared policy on waste management and recycling should extend to collaboration with neighbouring nations. In Canada, coordination with the United States becomes imperative, while in Belgium, cooperation with the European Union is crucial. This would help avoid competitive distortions between nations, fostering a more comprehensive and sustainable approach at both regional and international levels.

As public affairs consultants work internationally with clients from across a variety of sectors to help them navigate this challenging environment, understanding these varied considerations on both domestic and international coordination and cooperation is critical. Similarly, communicating the importance of those variables to governments and decision-makers can play a key role for any actor that effectively wants to encourage policy harmonization going forward. As Canada, Belgium and the international community at large continue to deal with how to best move towards a global circular economy, the private sector can and should play a pivotal role in encouraging harmonization across jurisdictions. In fact, working to highlight where recycling systems work most effectively based on their international experience can be a key starting point for private and public sector discussions.

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