An alliance of business groups opposed to the new Multi Material BC (MMBC) recycling system are demanding the province halt the planned May 19 launch and go back to the drawing board.
MMBC, an industry stewardship group, is poised to take responsibility for curbside blue box collection – with more containers and material types collected than before – while charging businesses for the recycling of the packaging and paper they generate.
However, it’s been in a bitter fight with small business groups that complain they are set to pay punishingly high fees, which will then be passed on to consumers.
The battle took a new turn Monday, when the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and eight other associations launched a campaign in British Columbia newspapers and online at rethinkitbc.ca to amplify the pressure on Victoria.
CFIB provincial affairs director Mike Klassen predicted job losses and some business closures as a result of the MMBC regulations and fees.
“This is public policy run amok,” he said. “We are asking British Columbians to talk to the B.C. government to push the pause button on its reckless and red tape-laden program.”
B.C. Agriculture Council vice-chair Stan Vander Waal said farmers can’t readily stop packaging strawberries and blueberries in plastic clamshells because retailers insist that’s what consumers want.
“We have to wear the cost,” he said, adding MMBC fees will cost his Chilliwack farm $60,000 to $100,000 a year. “It goes directly against growing agriculture.”
Canadian Newspaper Association chairman Peter Kvarnstrom, who is publisher of a paper in Sechelt, warned the new system will be “catastrophic” to B.C. community and daily newspapers, resulting in job losses in an already challenged industry and reduced service to communities.
The opposition groups say they support the aim of the program – to make generators of packaging pay to recycle it – but they dispute the fees and say multinational consumer goods firms like Unilever and Walmart control MMBC and are manipulating it to their benefit, not that of local businesses.
Most of the fees for container waste are double or even quadruple what businesses in Ontario pay to a similar agency.
Newspapers say they face a $14-million-a-year bite out of their operations because of the 20 cents per kilogram they will pay on newsprint, compared to less than half a penny in Ontario.
They contend a high proportion of newsprint is already recycled in B.C. through blue boxes.
Kvarnstrom said newspapers are considering options to create their own newsprint collection system – a move that could also deprive MMBC of newsprint revenue and undermine the program’s viability.
Magazine industry reps also warned small B.C. magazines will pay not only for their own paper recycling, but will also effectively subsidize big United States magazines like Harper’s or Vogue that will be exempt from MMBC fees on magazines mailed into B.C.
Printers predict some orders will shift to presses in the U.S. or Alberta to skirt the fees, costing jobs in B.C.
MMBC managing director Allen Langdon said MMBC’s higher fees are because they fully finance the program and ensure service for multi-family apartments and rural depots, in contrast to Ontario’s more limited focus on single-family homes.
He said B.C.’s successful container deposit system also means there’s less recyclable material left here for container stewards to collect and sell, so fees have to be higher to cover the system costs.
Langdon added no business is forced to join MMBC, noting groups like the newspaper industry are free to develop their own system.
“If they think there’s a better way, I think it’s important they put it forward.”
Environment Minister Mary Polak said most businesses are exempt from the fees if they have under $1 million of retail sales, generate less than a tonne of material or operate out of a single retail outlet, while generators of one to five tonnes per year pay flat fees of $550 or $1,200.
She said property taxpayers will save money because MMBC will now pay for recycling collection that local municipalities previously paid.
“The City of Richmond will save $1.5 million a year; Nanaimo will save just over $900,000 a year and the list goes on. This is about shifting the costs from the property taxpayer to the people who produce the packaging and printed paper.”