An alliance of business groups opposed to the new Multi Material BC 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.
But 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 and eight other associations launched a campaign in B.C. 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 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 U.S. 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 said no business is forced to join MMBC, adding 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,” Polak said. “This is about shifting the costs from the property taxpayer to the people who produce the packaging and printed paper.”
Shoppers face higher prices through hidden fees
New recycling costs imposed by Multi Material BC will ultimately hit consumers through hidden price hikes, critics say.
“The public is largely unaware of th
e money that will come out of their pocket and ultimately go back to manufacturers,” said Corinne Atwood, executive director of the B.C. Bottle and Recycling Depot Association.
Unlike existing deposit-refund systems in B.C. on cans or electronics – which are subject to audits and transparent reporting – Atwood said MMBC can do what it wishes with its revenue, without accountability.
“It’s a licence to print money,” she said.
Atwood has lobbied for years to expand the deposit system to include milk cartons and other containers, from hair spray canisters to detergent bottles.
She argues the refunds offered would ensure a high rate of recycling through depots, as with beverage cans now.
“If you put deposits on things initially the consumer would pay a bit more, but the people who bring it back will get their money back,” she said.
Instead, she said MMBC’s non-refundable fees on packaging generators will inflate prices with no recourse.
“With a hidden fee you don’t know what it is and there’s no opportunity to get that back – then you’re genuinely taking money out of families’ pockets.”
Atwood said she believes the government likes the new system because if MMBC fees drive retail prices higher, the province will collect more sales tax.
Existing bottle depots may be threatened because MMBC will also collect refundable beverage containers, she said, adding school teams and community groups that depend on bottle drives to raise money may also lose out if there’s less to collect.
Other recyclers say they’re also losing out under MMBC’s system.
The agency recently announced a consortium of waste firms that will handle the processing of containers that are collected.
Urban Impact Recycling was one of the bidders that wasn’t selected and CEO Nicole Stefenelli said her firm will now have to restructure and potentially shed jobs as a result.