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Local governments embrace controversial recycling program

Cowichan officials say the new MMBC recycling program will save local governments money. - Aaron Bichard/file
Cowichan officials say the new MMBC recycling program will save local governments money.
— image credit: Aaron Bichard/file

Cowichan’s municipal leaders are embracing a new provincially mandated recycling plan despite concerns from business leaders about jobs, accountability and bottom lines.

Scheduled for implementation May 19, the Multi-Material B.C. program is designed to shift the cost of recycling printed paper and packaging to the producers of those products.

Mayor Jon Lefebure said North Cowichan residents could see a drop in fees by council using MMBC payments to subsidize current recycling programs for newspapers, packaging and more.

“MMBC will pay us about $34 a household (annually) to do what we’re already doing at a cost of about $18 per household,” he said. “By joining MMBC, we’ll have money to do some education, and we hope to actually lower residents’ costs of recycling.”

Over at the Cowichan Valley Regional District, they are equally on board, but taking a different approach.

CVRD recycling and waste manager Bob McDonald explained MMBC’s payment for the recyclables from 12,500 homes — some $425,000 — is slated to land in a reserve account, which could be used to create future recycling programs, such as a kitchen-scraps programs.

He felt taxpayers should be better off under the new system, but acknowledged firms being hit with the fees could pass the cost back on to consumers at the till.

The province has given a break to smaller business affected by MMBC based on their revenues and the amount of paper and packaging they produce. That is not the case with chain stores and newspaper outlets.

The newspaper industry has stated layoffs and closures are possible as B.C. chains — such as Black Press, Glacier and Postmedia — swallow an estimated $6-million recycling bill from MMBC.

“The newspaper industry simply can’t afford the millions of dollars in fees they’re looking to set,” said John Hinds, CEO of Newspapers Canada.

MMBC’s Allen Langdon pegged per-tonne costs of recycled newsprint at about $90 per tonne, “but the costs of our program are over $400 a tonne.” Langdon called backlash from newspaper owners a “media frenzy.”

“I’m sympathetic to newspapers, but they had three years to come up with a plan,” he said of 2011 recycling legislation. “Newspapers have never had to pay for these programs, and this is the first time they’ve been held to pay for their (recycling) costs.”

Hinds said the industry had hoped MMBC would accept that $6 million as in-kind advertising rather than cash.

Kelvin McCulloch — the Duncan-based Buckerfield’s CEO who’s leading an anti-MMBC fee drive — is looking at bills closer to $60,000, but also has concerns about what he considers double taxation and the transparency of the program.

Other industries negatively affected by the program include the farm industry, landscapers, bottle depots, waste management companies, the manufacturing and export industry, and the printing industry, all backed by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

McDonald was sympathetic but frank about the companies being hit by the fees.

“It’s not a surprise. This has been coming for a couple of years.”

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