Home Blogs John Mullinder BC’s new Blue Box program a good model of real EPR

BC’s new Blue Box program a good model of real EPR

British Columbia's new full producer responsibility program for the Blue Box is getting a bad rap, certainly in Ontario where some waste haulers, municipalities, and even a few provincial government people are calling it a disaster. Here are some of the claims we are hearing.

Claim # 1: That many municipalities are excluded from the program.

In fact, BC municipalities had a choice on whether to belong to the stewardship program or not. Some 76 municipalities, regional districts and First Nations chose to join, while another 10 communities asked steward body Multi-Material BC to provide curbside service directly to their residents through private collectors, with no involvement from the municipality and at no cost to taxpayers. Together the local government and private collectors within the MMBC program provide service to 1.24 million curbside and multi-family households (72.3% of the provincial total). A further 20 municipalities initially chose not to join, but then reconsidered after the launch deadline and were placed on a waiting list. MMBC wants to add these latecomers as soon as possible, but it needs more steward funds (that is, fewer free-riders) before it can do so. So the quick answer to the exclusion claim is that the municipalities currently not in the program excluded themselves.

Claim # 2: That there is no enforcement and no method of performance monitoring or verification.

Membership of MMBC is voluntary. Stewards can choose to join MMBC or another body or meet their provincial obligations by themselves. MMBC has no control over stewards such as newspaper publishers or small business owners who have chosen not to join MMBC. It is up to the province to cajole, coerce, or take free-riders to court for not meeting their provincial obligations(1).

As for monitoring and verification of MMBC program performance, this is currently being done by independent auditors prior to the release of a report on the first seven months of the program on July 1st. Word on the street is that MMBC has met its 75% collection rate target.

Claim # 3: That municipalities were given a "take-it-or-leave-it" price for doing collection.

MMBC was under no obligation to offer municipalities any collection contracts. For political and ease-of-transition reasons, however, it chose to offer them the right-of-first-refusal on collection. The collection prices offered by MMBC were based on an analysis of the cost data that existed in 23 BC programs. Some municipal programs cost more, some cost less. The few municipalities that chose not to accept the MMBC offer had the option of collecting at their own taxpayers' expense or getting out of the collection business entirely and letting MMBC do it. Ten communities chose the latter option and MMBC contracts out the provision of direct service itself(2). Most municipalities and regional districts (the 72% of BC households mentioned above) chose to accept MMBC's price offer.

Claim # 4: That MMBC has created a monopoly on the processing of BC residential recyclables.

First, MMBC is a voluntary program which covers only its own members' obligations. There is an opening for other steward bodies to form (and one is trying to). Second, MMBC issued a request for post-collection proposals that covered 10 geographic zones, offering respondents the opportunity to bid for each zone, a bundle of zones, or all of them collectively.

Several companies bid. The winner, which bid in each zone and was also able to offer a collective bundle, brought three separate partners together(3) and included 26 sub-contracted companies . Its plan to centralise plastic, glass and metal processing for the province in one new facility(4) was possibly the clinching factor, since it avoided the cost of each separate container processing plant in the province having to install the same expensive bells and whistles to sort materials. This promised to be a big money-saver for the system as a whole. Most of those 29 companies were involved in managing residential recyclables in the province prior to the May 2014 launch of the full producer responsibility program. They continue to be involved, but instead are now being paid by producers, rather than by municipalities.

While BC's new EPR model for the Blue Box is not perfect, it clearly has a lot more going for it than its detractors are willing to admit, and is worthy of application, with some adjustments, in other provinces. A key challenge for both stewards and provinces going forward, however, is the sticky issue of free-riders, and how provinces act to effectively discourage them. Everyone wants a level playing field.

Source: The Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

 

 
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