With only two weeks before Multi-Material BC (MMBC) takes over residential recycling in much of the province, depot operators at both ends of the Lower Sunshine Coast said they were still very much in the dark about the program.
But, based on what they did know, they were raising serious concerns about what MMBC will mean for their operations and for the future of recycling on the Coast.
“We’re just suffering from a whole lack of information,” said GRIPS Recycling Depot director Joe Harrison, who was scheduled to meet May 8 with Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) solid waste staff to get some answers.
“Our concern was we didn’t have any information on what was expected of us, we didn’t know if we had enough space, we didn’t know if we had enough employees,” Harrison said. “We had no concrete information on what we were supposed to be doing.”
The non-profit Madeira Park recycler employs five people and subsidizes the operation with its bottle depot. The SCRD has contributed about $80,000 toward the facility’s $250,000 annual budget, in exchange for GRIPS diverting more than 300 tonnes from the landfill.
“The actual cost of running our depot is considerably more than that — it’s a bargain for the regional district,” Harrison said.
Since the SCRD is now under contract to MMBC for the depot, GRIPS will no longer haul or market the materials it collects, as the consortium Green By Nature and its subcontractors handle all post-collection services under MMBC. On the Coast, that contract has been awarded to Direct Disposal.
As well, as of Monday, the MMBC website listed the depot’s address as the Pender Harbour landfill, about five km from the GRIPS depot, but Harrison said he didn’t see that site being viable for 18 months at the earliest.
“There’s no site cleared. No utility. We need water, washrooms,” he said.
With the SCRD asking the depots to sign new contracts by the end of the month while so many questions remain unanswered, Harrison said GRIPS might have to reconsider its mandate.
“Our big problem is, what was a good operation might become a transfer station. We might as well have unionized regional district employees doing it and we’ll take our bottle depot and move somewhere else. We don’t want to be subsidizing the six corporations running MMBC,” he said.
At Gibsons Recycling Depot (GRD), co-owner Barb Hetherington said her operation is also in limbo: “Just like Joe, we’re up in the air about what MMBC is going to look like for our depot.”
After investing in equipment to create local opportunities to recycle and re-use materials under a zero waste mandate to which the SCRD committed, Hetherington said the MMBC model is “pulling apart opportunities for resource recovery.”
Re-using materials accepted for collection will not be allowed, she said, because “with MMBC, they own everything.”
As a result, GRD will no longer be able to utilize its glass densification machine, which colour-separates glass that is then sold to local glass blowers and landscapers, nor re-sell Styrofoam for plant pots and other uses.
GRD’s trucks are also “no longer of use,” she said, because it can no longer haul its material to markets or do back hauls for other businesses to earn extra income, and some materials currently accepted will be disallowed under MMBC, along with materials from “ma-and-pa businesses,” creating huge logistical challenges.
“It’s such a small amount that if you consider the infrastructure costs of having bins for these materials that are no longer accepted, or for small businesses, how are you going to cover the cost?” she asked. “These things were not addressed and were not discussed. I feel the SCRD could have done more research,” she said.
With such major changes in store, Hetherington said her staff is going to have to act like recycling police, “and I’m going to have a general public that’s totally confused and angry because so many recycling opportunities are now gone.”
Hetherington said she expects she will have to lay off “several” of her 23 employees, although the viability of the whole operation could be in question.
“We’ll be paid by the regional district because they’re the contractor, but what they’re paid [by MMBC] doesn’t cover the labour and infrastructure costs at all. It’s a ludicrous number,” she said.
“It makes you put your head against the wall. Why would anyone ever invest in a recycling business in B.C.? Why would we go into debt for a baler to be paid basically a slave-labour rate? Why should we finance recycling in our community?
“I’m disappointed that our regional district didn’t look at the impact on small business in the community, didn’t do their homework and look at what the actual cost to the community will be.”
Asked by email if the SCRD would provide additional funding to depots beyond the amounts allocated by MMBC, waste reduction and recovery manager Jeremy Valeriote did not directly answer, but said: “Discussions with depot contractors are underway.”
He provided the same response when asked if the SCRD had calculated added costs and net savings under the program.
Valeriote said MMBC would pay the SCRD between $60 and $175 per tonne for packaging and printed paper materials, plus an additional incentive for some materials if they are baled at the depot.
While May 19 has been given as the official MMBC launch date, Valeriote confirmed that the SCRD has changed that to June 1, as “it is not practical to start a new program on a statutory holiday in mid-month.”
On the location of the Pender Harbour depot, he said the address on the MMBC website had been amended to that of the existing GRIPS depot.
While the MMBC website listed Salish Soils’ address for the Sechelt depot, Valeriote said the SCRD’s discussions on an agreement with Salish Soils were still underway.
“Depot users will be informed in advance of any move,” he said. “In the meantime the existing Sechelt depot will continue to operate unchanged.”
Asked why depot operators were still unaware, so close to launch, of what the program would look like, Valeriote said: “Program implementation has been compressed into a tight schedule to meet the provincial recycling regulation deadline.
Program details have very recently been defined, and are currently being discussed with depot collection contractors.”
He answered affirmatively when asked if the SCRD will have some latitude to tailor local depots to suit community needs, but did not elaborate, and said the program will advance the SCRD’s zero waste goals by increasing the types of packaging materials that can be dropped off for free and the quantity of recycled materials diverted from the landfill.
The program will also provide “more transparent information on the end use of recycled materials,” he said.
© Coast Reporter