When the Waste-Free Ontario strategy was first released in 2016, the dramatic scope of the legislated individual producer responsibility regime (IPR) no doubt drew the attention of the international automakers, which have been regulated under a multitude of government-run waste diversion programs across Canada for a number of years.

Individual Producer Responsibility – But For What?

IPR represents a fundamental shift in product lifecycle thinking, essentially de-regulating the means by which producers resource recover their products, while holding them directly responsible for the verification of such recovery. Producers are then left to determine how to discharge their waste collection and management obligations, whether unilaterally or in collaboration of others, such as a producer responsibility organization (PRO).

What wasn’t clear in 2016, however, was exactly how this Circular Economy strategy would work in practice, however admirable its goals. Further, there is little commonality in the lifecycles of the products to be caught under IPR, which included both those currently regulated under existing government programs and a host of additional products, consistent with developments in the European Union. In other words, the circularity would be found in the details.

Tires the Test Case

Early this year, the government announced that “producers” of tires would become the first group to be legally obligated under IPR, capturing not just actual tire makers and distributors, but also retailers, automakers and other vehicular equipment manufacturers. While the used tire regulation remains in draft form, it is clear that automakers will need to act, with many, if not all, likely to join a PRO as a more efficient means of managing their legal obligations.

But difficult decisions abound, including those relating to risks, efficiencies, harmonization with other resource recovery activities, and the broader automotive sustainability and design-for-environment goals. As no clear precedent exists for a (fundamentally deregulated) IPR scheme, automotive producers, like all other tire producers, will need to act without complete clarity as to the path they’ve chosen.