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Blue box reformers seek extra year to hone plan
A controversial plan to expand blue box recycling and shake up how it's run has proved more complex than first thought, leading organizers to seek a one-year extension.
By May of 2014, a group of retailers and manufacturers dubbed Multi-Material BC is to take charge of recycling virtually every conceivable kind of packaging – from cardboard cereal boxes and plastic shrink wrap to tin cans as well as all printed paper.
The change will shift all costs of blue box recycling from civic taxpayers to industry, potentially spurring producers to reduce packaging.
But Multi-Material BC chair Allen Langdon says the timeline is coming up too fast in light of "significant challenges" in getting enough producers on side and addressing the concerns of municipalities.
The non-profit had faced an early deadline of Nov. 19 to develop the plan and complete consultations on it, and has asked B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake for an extra year both to complete that work and to launch the new system.
"We want to have the appropriate time to manage that difficult and significant transition," Langdon said. "All the steps we've taken so far have taken longer than we anticipated."
Unlike setting up an all-new product recycling system – like the one for electronic waste – the packaging stewardship initiative means business either taking over the existing residential curbside pickup systems or else cutting deals with local cities to have them carry on.
Municipal politicians have objected for months that their cities or local recycling societies may be forced out of the recycling business, possibly upending union contracts and leaving taxpayers out money they invested on infrastructure or trucks.
Exactly what the new system will look like remains unclear.
The industry group wants to keep blue box curbside pickup – which would expand to collect all packaging – but find ways to make it more efficient.
Langdon noted the patchwork of existing recycling services run by each Metro Vancouver city means a collection truck heading along the Surrey-White Rock border can pick up on one side of the street but not the other.
Rules of what's collected differs from city to city and Langdon said a consistent B.C.-wide system would be easier and cheaper to market and promote.
Multi-Material BC argues that since it will pay for the system it's entitled to seek ways to wrestle the costs down from the current $100 million a year spent on blue box recycling by cities across the province.
Civic politicians, meanwhile, are pressing the province to alter its instructions to Multi-Material BC.
The issue is coming before the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention this month, where a policy paper argues cities should have a right of first refusal that lets them keep their existing recycling services if they wish.
The paper said that would avert any disruption or decline in local service for cities that fear an industry-led system may be inferior.
"Local governments believe that the product stewardship program should focus on clear environmental protection as opposed to simply the cost impacts on producers," it said.
It also recommends retailers charge refundable deposits or eco-fees, while the industry group wants business to absorb the costs rather than hitting consumers with visible surcharges.
"The municipalities have raised valid concerns and we need time to work through that with them," Langdon said.
Another issue is the government-set target that at least 75 per cent of the packaging and paper collected be recycled.
That would leave up to a quarter of the material being landfilled or incinerated, UBCM notes, arguing a higher standard could be achieved through incentives to encourage the use of greener packaging.
Cities also want to be compensated for their costs of handling packaging that ends up in the garbage system.
Langdon said 75 per cent would still mark a major gain from the current recycling rate of about 50 to 57 per cent of the same materials.
He said producers are reducing or improving packaging "all the time" but added much of it comes from offshore and B.C.'s has little ability to influence their decisions.
The UBCM paper also calls for the residential pickup system to be extended to cover packaging waste from the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors within three years.