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BC backlash as MMBC rolls out

The logic seems simple enough: make companies — not taxpayers — pay the cost of recycling their own products. But the details of British Columbia’s (B.C.) new extended producer responsibility (EPR) system are creating a...


The logic seems simple enough: make companies — not taxpayers — pay the cost of recycling their own products. But the details of British Columbia’s (B.C.) new extended producer responsibility (EPR) system are creating a last-minute push from the businesses that will be hit hardest under the new system, and an eleventh-hour plea from the community-level recyclers who may be left out by the curb.

On May 19, 2014, businesses that sell products packaged in paper or plastic, with some exceptions and additions, must pay set steward fees to stewardship agency Multi-Material BC (MMBC). The fees transfer to Green by Nature EPR (GBN), a network of three major recycling companies — none of which are headquartered in B.C. — that will use 20 or more subcontractors to operate the post-curbside collection system.

B.C.’s current recycling system relies on municipal contracts funded by tax dollars, a concept that provincial officials have deemed unfair as Canada further embraces the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

Now, a group of nine business stakeholder associations have rallied together under the banner of Rethink It BC, demanding a six-month delay of the new EPR program until all parties are satisfied with the changes.

“Nobody should be handing over $100 million to an organization that didn’t even exist a few months ago,” Mike Klassen, director of provincial affairs for B.C. with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), told EcoLog News. “It’s like a gun to your head. You better pay or else,” Klassen added, alluding to the potential fines that could be issued to businesses that fail to sign up for the EPR program.

Only 800 businesses — referred to as stewards under the EPR program — have signed up with MMBC. But the agency says that includes most of B.C.’s major producers, the ones that produce the most packaging.

“Less than one per cent of businesses will be affected under the new system,” Allen Langdon, managing director of MMBC, told EcoLog News.

MMBC officials issued exemptions in February 2014 for businesses that make less than $1 million in annual revenue, have just a single retail point, or produce less than one tonne of paper of packaging. This reduced the number of affected businesses under the new EPR system from upwards of 80,000 to just about 3,000.

Langdon noted that some 1.2 million B.C. households and 170 curbside collectors are ready to go under the new EPR system, which he described as “made in B.C.”, and not really based on any other municipal model.  

One of the major qualms from Rethink It BC is the new fee methodology for printed paper and packaging under MMBC. While the MMBC stated on its website that “harmonization of this cost allocation methodology with other Canadian jurisdictions will be one of the objectives,” it doesn’t appear that objective has been reached.

Two Rethink It BC members, including Newspapers Canada and the Community Newspapers Association, warned that B.C. publications will face a new $14-million-a-year bill to recycle newsprint, a skill they thought they were already quite successful at. MMBC fees for B.C. newsprint are currently set at 20 cents per kilogram, compared to less than half a penny in Ontario.  

“We look at the group as a whole, and they’re the cheapest fee on the entire schedule,” Langdon said, noting the newspaper industry asked to be exempted completely from any fee.

Langdon said B.C.’s higher newsprint fees are, in part, due to a wider collection area than Toronto, particularly with more focus on serving multi-residential residences.

B.C. Minister of Environment Mary Polak has been busy defending the MMBC’s new EPR system in the Legislature. She calculated that the City of Richmond will save about $1.5 million a year, and Nanaimo will save more than $900,000 by not having to cover recycling costs. These are just a couple of examples of how much municipalities will save under the new system, she said. 

Rethink It BC argued, however, that any savings under the new EPR system will be dwarfed by the impact of the new fees on businesses, and the damage to local economies by potentially losing recyclers not fortunate enough to have won a coveted contract with the new processing network. Only those recyclers that earn a contract through MMBC will be able to take advantage of recycling residential packaging waste.

All contracts have not been finalized, Langdon said.

“We’re trying to be as fair and transparent as possible,” Langdon said, noting that community-level recyclers will still have free reign in the lucrative industrial, commercial and institutional market.

Langdon anticipated that he will have a sense of how well the B.C.’s new EPR system is operating by fall 2014.

This news item originally appeared in EcoLog News. To learn how to subscribe, visit www.ecolog.com


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