Business

MMBC recycling rival to target apartment niche

Most beverage containers and other packaging is now collected and processed for recycling under the direction of Multi-Material BC.  - Boaz Joseph / Surrey Leader
Most beverage containers and other packaging is now collected and processed for recycling under the direction of Multi-Material BC.
— image credit: Boaz Joseph / Surrey Leader

A newly formed packaging and paper stewardship group says it will seek provincial approval so retailers and other firms now required to recycle their waste can have an alternative to paying into Multi-Material BC (MMBC).

The new proposal comes from StewardChoice Enterprises, which is a subsidiary of Toronto-based Reclay StewardEdge, a consulting firm on sustainability issues that previously managed package recycle schemes in Ontario and Manitoba.

Development director Neil Hastie said the system would target roughly the 20 per cent of multi-family homes – mainly in the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island – that aren't yet directly covered under MMBC's system.

"That's a gap in coverage of the current program that we would propose to fill," Hastie said. "We would be offering producers a choice."

MMBC launched May 19 to meet the provincial mandate that firms that distribute packaging waste pay the costs of recycling it, but it has faced a backlash over high fees and lack of accountability from many companies, including gardening retailers and the newspaper industry.

Asked if the system would directly compete with MMBC, Hastie instead called it a "complementary initiative" that would work in parallel with the newly launched but controversial packaging stewardship system.

Existing waste haulers who already collect recyclables from multi-family buildings would continue to do so and take the materials to processors. Money paid by packaging generators to discharge their responsibility under B.C.'s recycling regulation would largely go to those haulers.

But it's unclear how StewardChoice's niche offering could meet the province's target of 75 per cent recycling of packaging and paper waste for prospective members without them also being part of MMBC's system.

Hastie said more details will be released with a formal stewardship plan in mid-June.

Some of the recyclables would be processed by the same contractor group that works for MMBC.

Kelvin McCulloch, CEO of Buckerfields farm supply stores and a leading opponent of MMBC, said it's not yet clear to him if StewardChoice offers a true alternative.

"Is it really competition or is it optics?" he asked.

MMBC managing director Allen Langdon said StewardChoice's proposal shows alternatives are possible.

"It's proof of what we were saying all along that we're not a monopoly," he said. "There's an open framework and people can come in at other times."

But Langdon said StewardChoice's plan amounts to "cherry picking" that would run counter to MMBC's aim of providing broad, consistent service across the province – a factor he said the province must weigh in deciding if it should be approved.

London Drugs is one of the companies in discussions with StewardChoice.

The retailer has yet to decide if it will stay with MMBC and try to improve that system, or give termination notice to switch to either StewardChoice or a potential system of its own, said London Drugs chief operating officer Clint Mahlman.

He said London Drugs has for years taken back packaging from customers and considers itself on the leading edge of retailer recycling.

Mahlman said there's been much misinformation circulated about MMBC, but added London Drugs would like to see improvements.

"Unfortunately the MMBC program does not contemplate rewarding companies such as ourselves that have reduced packaging for years," Mahlman said.  "They have essentially leveled the playing field under this program."

He said there's "not a lot of detail" yet on StewardChoice's plan.

Hastie said the aim is to send the program to public and stakeholder consultation this summer.

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