Costs of recycling shakeup under fire at UBCM

Civic leaders spar with head of Multi Material BC over blue box changes coming next spring

Allen Langdon defends the planned Multi Material BC recycling system at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver.

B.C. civic leaders on Monday grilled the head of a new industry-led recycling agency over the costs and downsides of the new system set to replace municipally run blue box pick up next spring.

Vancouver Coun. Adriane Carr said she’s “gravely concerned” that Multi Material BC‘s $110-million annual budget to recover packaging and printed paper province-wide is much lower than the $190 million already spent each year in Metro Vancouver alone on recycling services.

“If there are significant cost reductions, you have to ask what are the service reductions,” said Carr, who warned it would be “backwards” if cities that have built strong recycling programs now see them shrivel under MMBC.

She and other municipal delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention pressed MMBC managing director Allen Langdon to increase the prices offered to local cities to act as collectors under the new system.

Langdon said he’s willing to talk to concerned cities but gave no sign of sweetening the offers already made.

“There’s a limit to what producers can actually sustain,” he said, referring to the firms that are responsible for recovering packaging and paper under new provincial regulations.

Nor would he commit to specific targets for reducing the amount of packaging encasing goods sold in B.C.

Langdon said producers will pay their share of the program based on how much packaging they generate, giving them a price signal to reduce their packaging or make it more recyclable.

But Carr said that could still allow producers and retailers to simply pass the extra costs along to consumers through higher prices without actually reducing their environmental footprint.

Many cities refused to sign on by a Monday deadline to act as collectors of recyclables under proposed contracts, either indicating they’ll keep running their own systems without MMBC financial aid or else they’ll leave the job entirely for MMBC to contract out to private  collectors.

But MMBC agreed to let cities take more time and join the program after the scheduled May 19 launch date, setting the stage for more negotiations.

An emergency debate on the issue is slated for Thursday at UBCM.

Costs and concern about service levels have been key challenges, said Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, adding his city would have to subsidize MMBC by $100,000 a year, while Vancouver pegs its shortfall at more than $5 million.

He said new contractors could adopt disjointed pick up schedules that don’t mesh well with garbage and organics collection, confusing residents and reducing participation.

“If they take it over there are so many what if’s that could come from it.”

Langdon said the new system will be a “significant change” for cities used to controlling recycling service but said many municipalities that sign on will have “most if not all” of their costs covered.

Langdon confirmed, however, that Lower Mainland residents could lose curbside pickup of glass if a new private contractor takes over blue box pickup in their city.

He said new collectors can propose a depot system instead for glass but that MMBC will have the final say.

MMBC wants to reduce contamination of blue box recyclables by keeping glass separate.

Other material that will be accepted only at depots include polystyrene foam and polyethylene film.

Nanaimo Regional District director Julian Fell suggested Metro Vancouver’s plan to build a new garbage incinerator will be at odds with MMBC’s plans to collect and recycle paper and packaging, unless it ends up being fuel in the new “waste to smoke” plant.

“Our intent is to recycle material,” Langdon responded. “At this point there’s no plan to use recovery technologies or waste incineration.”

An environment ministry spokesman cautioned that Metro’s waste plan isn’t a “licence to burn garbage” and will be subject to an environmental assessment and other permitting.

MMBC says its recycling program will add 10 new categories of packaging not now accepted in blue boxes and it will be consistent province-wide, making public education easier.

Moore agreed the program has much potential and is too important for cities to abandon.

“If we can achieve this every other province will follow it and we’ll have a massive effect across this country. If we do it wrong out of the gate, no one will follow it and it will be a disaster for everyone.”

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