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Business asks B.C. to ‘rethink’ new recycling program
A coalition of powerful business stakeholder groups – including the national organization representing daily and community newspapers in Canada and the B.C. Chamber of Commerce – are urging the provincial government to “rethink” its plan to operate the province’s blue box recycling program that is ready to start up in Osoyoos in seven weeks.
The new provincial stewardship organization called Multi-Materials British Columbia (MMBC) is scheduled to take over B.C.’s blue box recycling program effective May 19.
Several business stakeholders have launched a public and media campaign urging Premier Christy Clark and her government to delay implementation of the MMBC program until receiving additional input from the province’s business community.
Newspapers Canada and a group of eight business associations representing tens of thousands of B.C. small businesses and their employees in agriculture, newspaper publishing, landscaping, printing, custom manufacturing, retail, wholesale, food and waste collection sectors are launching a series of advertisements to inform the public about B.C.’s new recycling plan.
The campaign is being called #RethinkitBC and it will be one of the largest public awareness campaigns mounted in this province’s history.
John Winter, the president of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, didn’t pull any punches when discussing the impact of MMBC on the roughly 3,000 businesses that will be impacted by the program.
“The whole thing has been an exercise in how not to do things,” he said. “There has been absolutely no consultation except for firing off threatening letters to businesses that if they don’t comply, they will face stiff fines.”
The 3,000 businesses that will pay fees to MMBC “are being treated in a way that I feel is repulsive and that will render many of these businesses as non-competitive,” he said. “We’re looking at businesses closing and layoffs. The entire system doesn’t seem to make any business sense or economic sense.”
In large part because of the advocacy of the B.C. Chamber and local chambers, the provincial government exempted businesses with less than $1 million gross sales, businesses that annually produce less than one tonne of packaging and printed paper and businesses with a point of sale. The exceptions are franchises, chains and businesses operating under a banner.
As a result, more than 27,000 PPP producer businesses and 99 per cent of all B.C. businesses have been exempted, said Winter.
Winter reacted angrily when informed MMBC managing director Allen Langdon suggests the B.C. business community has been consulted extensively about the program and its implementation.
“I can state without fear or revocation that if he insists there has been extensive consultation on this matter, he’s not telling the truth,” said Winter.
“I’m the president of a chamber that represents 36,000 businesses in this province and not one person from MMBC has ever spoken to us. Not one.”
Langdon strongly disagrees with business leaders who suggest there hasn’t been sufficient consultation about the MMBC program.
“There has been more than two years of consultation … we have had information on our website and used multiple platforms to provide constant upgrades about our plans,” he said.
MMBC was formed after provincial ministers of environment agreed each province should expand its recycling efforts back in 2011, said Langdon.
MMBC is a not-for-profit stewardship program that will dramatically increase the amount of packaged and printed paper that will be recycled in this province, he said.
No single business or sector has to join MMBC and the newspaper and printing industries are free to organize and operate their own recycling program if they have such strong objections to the program, he said.
The newspaper industry “has been one of the most subsidized” business sectors in Canada over the past 20 years, said Langdon.
MMBC has signed contracts with 67 municipal governments and collected more than $85 million in fees from businesses across the province and is ready to distribute 66,000 blue boxes on May 19 and eventually expand the program to 1.25 million households in B.C., said Langdon.
Estimates from the newspaper industry that the MMBC program will cost this sector $14 million annually is unsubstantiated and he estimates the figure will be closer to $6 million, which isn’t unreasonable when you consider there are hundreds of newspapers to share the costs and the amount of newsprint that will be recycled, said Langdon.
Bonnie Dancey, CEO of the South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce, said she sent a notice about the pending implementation of the MMBC program in the summer of 2013 and she didn’t receive a single call about its impact.
“I don’t think our membership really knows anything about it,” she said.
Dancey agrees MMBC officials did a very poor job of consulting with the business community considering this is a program that will affect millions of B.C. residents.
Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells said he and members of council “ are quite satisified” with the deal they have signed with MMBC through its current recycling contractor, BFI from Penticton.
“From a municipal standpoint, we don’t foresee any problems with it,” he said. “They’re increasing the amount of things they want to recycle and keep out of the landfill and that’s our goal as a municipality.
“I state this knowing some businesses out there are going to be impacted.”
The town’s goal is to be “revenue neutral” with the MMBC contract, said Wells.
The town has had to hire one additional full-time worker at the local landfill to monitor the program and also must purchase extra equipment to handle extra materials that will be recycled, he said.
Wells admitted the town didn’t have much time to make a decision to continue running its own recycling program or join MMBC.
“It was so fast out of nowhere … we had less than a month last fall to make a decision,” he said.
John Hinds, the president of Newspapers Canada, said this program is deeply flawed and punishes certain business sectors extremely hard and will not accomplish the goal to reduce the amount of PPP in provincial landfills.
“This program will lead to closures and mergers … and take an industry already battling many challenges and introduce higher costs our industry simply can’t absorb,” Hinds. “The reality is if this program moves forward as designed, newspapers are going to close and a lot of people are going to lose their jobs.
“We can’t pass these costs on to our readers or advertisers. There are so many newspapers in this province that are just hanging on. We can’t afford another multi-million dollar hit.”
MMBC will charge newspapers $240 per tonne to collect and recycle newsprint, which is unfair to an industry “that has been the superstar of recycling” over the past 70 years, said Hinds.
More than 85 per cent of newsprint has been recycled since the 1940s in this country, he said.
Not only will MMBC charge exorbitant fees to newspapers, but they will be able to sell recycled newsprint on the open market for profit, he said.
Marilyn Knoch, the executive director of the BC Printing and Imaging Association, agreed the plan to bring MMBC on board was done without any consultation with B.C.’s business community.
The current recycling system in B.C., which includes a mix of small and large operators and haulers, is working just fine and there was no need to dramatically change it, she said.
Peter Kvarnstrom, president of B.C. operations for Glacier Media and chair of the board with Newspapers Canada, said the newspaper industry will be severely impacted by MMBC, but so will many other businesses.
The public and media campaign was launched because no one from the Liberal government or MMBC will sit down and listen to the concerns from the business community, said Kvarnstrom.
Mike Klassen, the director of provincial affairs for B.C. with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said the province has done so little consultation about that the majority of affected business “have no clue about any change in fees increases with six weeks to go until the program begins.”
There’s still time for the government to delay the start of MMBC and consult with the business community and legislate changes that are fair and reasonable, said Klassen.
“But government has given no indication of any willingness to change its course at this time,” he said.