Recycling in BC with MMBC: end of bottle drives

Recycling in BC is going to change drastically. MMBC is going to launch their program May 19th. Shortly after the provincial election last year, it was decided to replace recycling services which are now being provided by independent recycling companies with a corporate-backed ‘non-profit’ organization called MMBC.  Who is MMBC and what is this about?

Timeline:
2009: Federal government introduces Canada-wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) with co-ordinated provincial EPR programs.

September 2012:  Canadian Stewardship Services Alliance Inc (CSSA) forms by a group of retailers that includes Loblaw, Walmart, Metro, Canada Safeway and Sobeys, along with consumer packaged goods companies Kraft, Unilever, P&G, Coca-Cola and Maple Leaf Foods.

2012:  CSSA sets up Multi Material British Columbia (MMBC) as a non-profit organization outside the jurisdiction of the office of the auditor general of BC, and the BC Administration Act.

2012-2013: MMBC lobbies the BC government  to let them be the sole recycler for most of the province

April 15, 2013: BC government approves MMBC stewardship plan

May 2013: MMBC files a notice of intention to borrow $1.5 million from the parent company CSSA (at time of BC election)

May 19, 2014:  The official start date of MMBC program

No provincial accountability
The amount of money that MMBC will receive in the next 5 years will be approximately $400 million. Because MMBC was set up outside the jurisdiction of the office of the auditor general of BC, and the BC Administration Act, the audited financial statements of MMBC from the beginning are not available for scrutiny.

Section 8(2)(f) of the BC Recycling Regulation Act only requires the producer to submit independently audited financial statements if deposits are charged in the case of beverage containers, or if fees are charged by the producer to the consumer to cover the cost of the program and are shown on the consumer sales receipt.

MMBC is not required to report on any recycling data.

How the scheme works
The idea behind Extended Producer Responsibility  (EPR) is to encourage producers to:

  • reduce packaging
  • take the garbage back once the consumer is done with it. (Manufacturers of batteries, paint, smoke alarms and light bulbs have programs set up to receive these items when a consumer returns them for recycling.)

With less than a handful of civil servants overseeing BC EPR programs and dozens of EPR programs in operation, enforcement in BC is highly stretched at best.

Producers must sign on:
MMBC has now publicly announced its intention to expand the policy to include non-BC resident businesses and a three-tiered flat fee ranging from $150 to $1200 annually. The fee levied on those in Tier 2 or Tier 3 is based on an estimated cost of $455 per tonne of packaging and printed paper. Businesses will be asked to pay anywhere from 20 cents to 70 cents per kilogram of recyclable materials.

  • Less than 1/3 of 1% of BC Businesses have agreed to sign on to their program (less than 1500 of over 400,000 businesses in BC)
  • Even with the threat of a $200,000 fine, businesses are reluctant to sign on.
  • MMBC is unwilling to provide information on what it will cost, yet insists in compliance in advance.

Communities were given three options regarding participation in the program:

  • Apply to have MMBC take over residential curbside recycling service (or drop off depots)
  • Apply for a financial incentive from MMBC, with the municipality continuing to provide the service either with its own forces or contracted services
  • Not accept an incentive and continue existing residential recycling services

Most communities had significant concerns with the agreement prepared by MMBC and tried to negotiate changes, which were largely rejected by MMBC.

Recently, MMBC said that there has been insufficient revenue generated from producers to fund all of the communities who applied for incentives. Several communities have been put on a waiting list. The chart below shows the revenue from the EEQ program in Quebec, a subsidiary of CSSA. It continually makes money.

This chart shows fees collected from municipalities (dark blue) and outstanding (outlined) from EEQ program
This chart shows fees collected from municipalities (dark blue) and outstanding (outlined) from EEQ program in Quebec, a subsidiary of CSSA.

MMBC is not clear on what materials will get recycled or burned in any of the incinerators that have been popping up around the country or that are proposed by Metro Vancouver.

Small Scale Recyclers will get wiped out
It is up to MMBC to choose which recycling depots and sorting plants it wants to use. Already, several locally run recycling exchange centres are slated for closure because they are not on the list.

Incentives
MMBC will pay participating cities “incentives” to participate in their program. The cities are then responsible for paying MMBC contractors for curbside pickup as well as transportation costs incurred.

Fines
A fine of $5000 will be levied if any loads delivered with over 3% contamination.  This will bankrupt smaller waste removal companies.  It will also burden regional districts who will face significant fines for non-compliance.

No more bottle drives?
Existing bottle depots may be threatened because MMBC will also collect refundable beverage containers.  School teams and community groups that depend on bottle drives to raise money may also lose out if there’s less to collect.

The BC Bottle and Recycling Depot Association lobbied for years to expand the deposit system to include milk cartons and other containers, from hair spray canisters to detergent bottles. They argue the refunds offered would ensure a high rate of recycling through depots, as with beverage cans now.

Glass collection
MMBC says it will pay a flat rate of $80/tonne for glass collection. This is interesting because there is no place in BC to recycle glass. There is one place that needs glass, besides landfills. Incinerators melt glass which turns into slag and covers the “under-fire air” that helps the waste to burn.

Unfair Costs
Considering that the MMBC is largely made up of grocery store chains like Sobey’s and Loblaw’s, it’s not surprising that they’re going to make farmers pay for the recovery of plastic clamshells even though they’re the ones who demand berries be sold that way.

B.C. Agriculture Council vice-chair Stan Vander Waal said that MMBC fees will cost his Chilliwack farm $60,000 to $100,000 a year. If the berries go unsold, then who will sort the expired food from the clamshells?

The short video below shows the waste from the grocery industry.

It has been reported that the City of Nanaimo will save $35 per household by participating in the MMBC program. However, it is impossible to say there will be savings in the future without taking into account other costs such as transportation and tipping fees, as well as fines for contaminated loads.

In the end BC taxpayers will have to pay twice; on their property taxes and at the store.  Instead of BC communities realizing the profits from recycling, those profits will realized by the corporations running the MMBC program.