'Huge' curbside recycling program a game-changer

John Gleeson/Staff Writer / Staff writer
November 9, 2012 01:00 AM

Local governments on the Sunshine Coast are running out of time to respond to a planned recycling program that is expected to start province-wide in 18 months, changing residential curbside collection in both urban and rural municipalities.

Local governments on the Sunshine Coast are running out of time to respond to a planned recycling program that is expected to start province-wide in 18 months, changing residential curbside collection in both urban and rural municipalities.

If the province's stepped-up timetable is met, the packaging and printed paper stewardship plan will add the new service starting May 2014 wherever curbside garbage or recycling pickup is now provided, subject to some cost conditions.

That means the service could be delivered to the Town of Gibsons and most areas in the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD), which provide contracted garbage collection, along with District of Sechelt and the Sechelt Indian Government District (SIGD), which contract out both curbside garbage and recycling pickup.

Details of the draft plan emerged Oct. 29 at a consultation workshop in Vancouver, but during a briefing session three days later, SCRD directors were slightly riled by the lack of key information, combined with a Nov. 9 deadline for comments.

"I would like this as our first comment: that this is a very complex topic and we're not happy with their turnaround time, because this is huge," West Howe Sound director Lee Turnbull said during the Nov. 1 infrastructure services committee meeting.

The committee agreed to hold a regional workshop on the new program, inviting officials from Gibsons, Sechelt and the Sechelt Indian Band. Chair Frank Mauro suggested the date be scheduled at least one week prior to a Dec. 14 deadline for final comments after the plan goes to the Ministry of Environment for approval.

Run by Multi-Material British Columbia (MMBC), the program's target is to recover 75 per cent of all packaging and printed paper (PPP) entering the waste stream. The current recovery rate is estimated at between 50 and 57 per cent.

MMBC -whose board includes major Canadian food processors and retailers such as Loblaw, McCain, Overwaitea and Tim Hortons -said it was formed "in anticipation of the government adding packaging and printed paper as a new product category under its recycling regulation."

Last month, Environment Minister Terry Lake announced his department is a full year ahead of schedule and expects to have the program in place by May 2014.

Under the draft plan, MMBC will offer the service to municipalities and First Nations that are now providing or contracting collection services, in exchange for a "market-clearing price financial incentive." Raised from producer fees, which may be passed on to consumers in the price of goods, the market-clearing price is intended to cover the cost of providing the service.

"It will be a one-time offer," Dion Whyte, the SCRD's manager of sustainability services, told directors Nov. 1. "If the local government accepts the market-clearing price and it wants to operate the service, then the local government has to make all the arrangements. If the local government declines, MMBC will tender for collection services in the local area directly."

Municipalities are being asked to make up their minds by the second quarter of 2013, but the number of unknowns - with costs paramount -was a source of frustration for SCRD directors at the briefing.

"This is getting technical, and without any baseline because you don't know how much it's going to cost," Halfmoon Bay director Garry Nohr said about one hour into Whyte's presentation. "So it's impossible to know which way to go."

Gibsons director Gerry Tretick agreed it was "very hard for us to determine what to do," and asked Whyte, who attended the Vancouver workshop, to "try to take this mish-mash of very confusing information and help us focus on what's really important in the next six months."

With the Nov. 9 deadline looming for comments, however, the committee agreed to submit Whyte's preliminary responses to MMBC as the initial SCRD position, leading off with a critique of the provincially imposed timelines.

Currently the SCRD contracts curbside garbage collection in Halfmoon Bay, Roberts Creek, Elphinstone and West Howe Sound, while Town of Gibsons contracts out garbage collection and District of Sechelt and SIGD contract out both garbage and recycling collection. Depots in Gibsons, Sechelt and Pender Harbour already accept some types of PPP and would be also offered a market-clearing price to deliver the service.

The list of PPP to be collected "will be subject to discussion with stakeholders during implementation," said the MMBC handout from the Oct. 29 workshop, but the plan is to recycle all PPP for which there are end markets. The handout lists "all printed papers (except bound books) and paper packaging, plastics one to seven, and steel, aluminum and glass packaging."

The draft plan assumes all materials will be accepted at both curbside and depots, except plastic film and polystyrene foam, which would be accepted only at depots.

Since it will provide a form of curbside recycling collection to many Coast residents for the first time, SCRD chief administrative officer John France described the initiative as "positive overall."

But, he added, "the devil's in the details."

In his initial comments on the draft plan, Whyte said the program has to specify the market-clearing price will cover the cost of delivering the service and will be based on "local cost drivers and not a one-size-fits-all" model.

It should also ensure that "where garbage collection services exist, curbside collection will be provided, regardless of cost," and clarify that both curbside and depot options will be provided.

The program, Whyte wrote, "needs to set an even playing field without pinching out smaller operators," and should include environmental performance indicators in the selection criteria. As well, the province should require disclosure of fees charged to producers, revenues collected by MMBC and cost of services provided.

MMBC should also strive to calculate regional recovery rates, Whyte said. The program would track how much material is collected locally and how much is produced for the whole province, but there is no mechanism to track volumes consumed by each collection area.

He also recommended MMBC expand its criteria for a proposed streetscape collection and recycling system, which would exclude all urban centres on the Coast because they fall below the population threshold of 20,000. The criteria are "not acceptable," he wrote, especially for smaller communities where tourism is a factor.

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