Design Regulated in B.C… Who's Next?

New laws hold corporations responsible for paper and packaging waste

First published: Mar 2013

Printed paper and packaging has recently been added to the B.C. Government’s Environmental Management Act. As recommended by the Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment, B.C. is one of four provinces attempting to divert landfill waste by legislating what is accepted by landfills. The regulations take effect in May 2014. Print and packaging designers need to get up to speed now in order to avoid making costly errors for their clients.

Currently, municipalities, and therefore taxpayers, bear the financial and administrative burden for recycling. As such, what is accepted at recycling facilities is inconsistent throughout the province. Under the new Act, collection and recycling strategies will be the responsibility of the brand owners (“producer”) of packaging and printed paper (PPP). The program is known as “Extended Producer Responsibility” (EPR). If successful, the Act will increase the recycling rate of printed paper and packaging in all areas of the province from 55 per cent to 75 per cent, resulting in reduced landfill waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

In a nutshell, Schedule 5 of B.C.’s Environmental Management Act states that effective May 2014, brand owners selling or distributing printed paper products or packaged products must have a plan approved by the Ministry of the Environment addressing how they will manage their product’s end-of-life. The Act includes printed paper (newspapers and inserts, magazines, catalogues, telephone directories, other printed paper); paper packaging (corrugated cardboard, boxboard, kraft paper bags, molded pulp containers, polycoat cartons and cups, aseptic containers); most plastic packaging numbers 1 through 7; aluminum cans and foil; steel cans; spiral-wound cans; and glass jars. The good news is that those of us in B.C. will likely see more items accepted for recycling.

While your client is ultimately responsible for mitigating risk for their business, you as a designer have an opportunity to play a valuable role by understanding the nuances of the Act and learning how to design within them.

Understanding the terms as defined by the Act are the first step. Printed paper, regardless of fibre source, that is not packaging, is defined as containing text and graphics. The Ministry of Environment noted that annual reports and magazines fall within the term “printed paper” and therefore the producer is responsible for their disposal under the new regulations. This means that the publication must be recyclable within the curbside recycling stream—no glued bindings (staples are OK), no coil binding, or other non-paper recyclable items contained within or on the paper.

Packaging is defined as “a material, substance or object that is used to protect, contain or transport a commodity or product...” Designers who understand and design for the new regulations will help their clients to avoid paying penalties or worse. Companies failing to comply with the Act apparently will not be permitted to sell or distribute their product in B.C. It is not known how the province will police these regulations.

The old school design approach didn’t consider what happened to a product at the end of its life, so it was sent to the dump when its life was over. To mitigate overflowing landfills and provide another source of energy, new waste incinerators—which burn waste to generate energy—have been proposed in the province. But these plans come with heavy impacts on the environment and human health. Current design approaches include items that are recyclable after use, but reuse of materials is more responsible. While better examples of product design and print design are few and far between, in the coming years we will see minimal use of materials and resources for packaging and, better still, none used at all. Consider the dried fruit purees that act as a plastic wrap designed by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, or MIT’s zero packaging solution that laser engraves directly on fruit and vegetables. It is an exciting time for industrial designers who are creating new materials. It is equally exciting for print and packaging designers who are likely to find themselves applying design to a whole new complement of materials.

The new Act is being watched by all provinces since B.C. is the first to implement the industry-lead scheme for PPP in Canada. Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba have had similar programs in place for some time but have not regulated province-wide standards for recycling as B.C. is doing. B.C. is leading North America in EPR programs. Phase one is set to be completed by 2015. Phase two is set to be completed by 2017 and will include construction and demolition materials, furniture, textiles, carpeting and appliances.

The GDC’s National Sustainability Committee will keep a keen eye on the Act as it evolves and share what we learn. If B.C. achieves its reduction goals, other provinces with existing EPR initiatives may follow suit and get industry involved in making further changes.

The design trend then for 2013/14 should be to avoid mixing materials in your print work. Let graphic solutions do the work for you, exemplify new design practice and stay ahead of the crowd.


Canadian Government
Extended Producer Responsibility (Canada)
B.C. Government
B.C. Producers (Multi-Material BC)