B.C. cities vote on joining MMBC recycling system

More flexibility, assurances for councils concerned about switch to industry-controlled blue box program

Surrey Coun. Linda Hepner chairs a Union of B.C. Municipalities committee that has been negotiating with recycling agency MMBC.

Many B.C. city councils are voting this week on whether to sign on to Multi-Material B.C.’s recycling system after the industry stewardship organization made more concessions to address municipal concerns.

Cities face a Nov. 30 deadline to decide whether they will accept incentive payments from MMBC to act as recycling contractors in the new system, even though there are still concerns the money won’t fully cover municipal costs.

The alternatives are to let MMBC launch its own blue box recycling collection with new contractors – replacing the municipal system – or to opt out and keep running the current pickup system without any contributions from MMBC.

Cities had complained for months of intense pressure to sign without knowing the full ramifications of the shift to an industry-controlled recycling system – at one point they had been told they would be frozen out for at least five years if they opted out.

Now cities that opt out will get a chance to reconsider and sign on with MMBC in early 2015.

Surrey Coun. Linda Hepner, chair of a working group on the issue for B.C. municipalities, said that concession lets concerned councils “take a deep breath” and watch how the changes unfold in other cities over the next year before deciding if they want to join.

“Each local government can now make its own decision without feeling pressured that there’s a significant loss if they don’t make that decision immediately.”

Cities can also now cancel the MMBC contract on six months notice.

Hepner also credited MMBC with spelling out more clearly how it will levy penalties on cities – as a last resort only – for repeatedly delivering packaging and printed paper that is too heavily contaminated with other materials.

Cities previously feared contamination fees might devour all their revenue.

Hepner said it’s “disappointing” glass won’t be accepted in blue boxes under the new system – households will be expected to instead take all glass jars and bottles to depots.

Surrey voted on the MMBC offer in a closed council meeting earlier this week and the decision won’t be announced until next week.

Also still deciding are Richmond and Vancouver councils. Burnaby, Nanaimo and Smithers are among the latest municipalities to sign on with MMBC.

The producer pay system mandated by the provincial government makes companies that generate or distribute packaging and printed paper responsible for the full costs of its collection and recycling effective next May.

Small businesses have also been alarmed that they will have to register as stewards and be saddled with onerous reporting duties and high costs of supporting the system.

Canadian Federation of Independent Business spokesman Mike Klassen said the organization is lobbying for higher exemption thresholds so as few small businesses as possible are subject to the new rules.

MMBC so far has agreed to exempt businesses that generate less than a tonne of packaging per year and have annual revenues under $1 million, but the CFIB wants that raised to $5 to $10 million.

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