Alex BUTLER and Jeff NAGEL
A proposal to change the way B.C. communities recycle has raised concerns for Abbotsford – and cities across the province are crying foul over the new agency the provincial government has put in charge of blue box pick-up.
Local politicians from across the province have expressed concerns about Multi-Material B.C. (MMBC) – an industry stewardship group made up of major retailers and producers – which is set to take responsibility for collecting and recycling packaging by next May, as a result of new provincial regulations.
Much criticism centred on a Sept. 16 deadline for cities to either commit to a contract to be a collector for MMBC, let the agency contract out blue box pickup to other collectors, or keep their running recycling services without compensation from MMBC.
Last Friday, MMBC managing director Allen Langdon gave some leeway, announcing that deadline only applies for cities that want to be contractors when the rollout takes place in May of 2014, while ones that take more time can still join later.
MMBC has promised to let interested municipalities continue to run their own recycling operations by acting as contractor, if that’s what they prefer.
But the cities say the prices offered by MMBC are far too low to cover their costs and that other terms are unreasonable.
Abbotsford, like many municipalities, has concerns about the MMBC plan. A city staff report states that feedback from MMBC about addressing their concerns confirmed “it will remain inflexible to the needs of local government.”
Until the city’s concerns are addressed, it will fully reject the MMBC plan.
However, Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman said city staff has been directed to work with other local governments to have the plan modified until it becomes acceptable.
“We’re not the only municipality to have concerns with this thing,” Banman told The News last week.
“It’s basically been a case of ‘Hey this is what we’re going to do’ and there are all kinds of issues with this.”
Cost is one of the biggest stumbling blocks.
“It could become very expensive, either to the city or to the taxpayers,” said Banman.
Many cities fear they’ll lose money on recycling if they continue providing the service their residents expect for the financial compensation MMBC has offered for recyclables. The recycling would also have to meet MMBC’s standards – ending curbside collection of recyclables like glass, film plastic and beverage containers, a service Abbotsford currently offers.
Communities can opt to decline a contract and MMBC will contract recycling pick-up out as it sees fit, but mayors fear that may be at reduced service levels, with public anger directed to city hall for a service they would no longer have control over.
With those choices unappealing, many cities are expected to instead pick a third option for now, which allows them to keep running their recycling system without compensation from MMBC.
Abbotsford could opt out of the program, but consumers would effectively pay for recycling packaging and printed materials twice – first, in the cost of the product, which wouldn’t be transparent to the consumer, and again for the city’s recycling program.
Allan Asaph, executive director for the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, said his organization also has concerns about the MMBC proposal.
However, the Chamber’s concerns are about how the proposal will affect local businesses, which will have to meet MMBC’s requirements to register as a steward under the program.
“Any business that is in the position of putting packaging or printed paper in the hands of individuals, where it will end up in residential household recycling, are responsible for registering for this,” explained Asaph.
But Asaph said communication from MMBC about the program has been insufficient. He said some small businesses received notice that they could be fined as much as $200,000 if they didn’t register with MMBC, but had been unaware the new program existed.
MMBC agreed to a temporary halt in its requirements for businesses after the BC Chamber of Commerce lobbied the minister of the environment and MMBC on behalf of small businesses.
Asaph said MMBC was using a “one-size-fits-all approach,” which could place a large burden on small business.
The issue is slated for an emergency debate today at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.