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Most Metro Vancouver cities sign on to MMBC recycling subsidies

Changes to the recycling system coming next May will allow more types of packaging to go into blue boxes and be kept out of landfills. - Black Press file photo
Changes to the recycling system coming next May will allow more types of packaging to go into blue boxes and be kept out of landfills.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

Most cities in Metro Vancouver – including Surrey, Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond – have signed on to act as curbside collectors under Multi-Material B.C.'s new blue box recycling system.

Cities had faced a Nov. 30 deadline to decide whether they would take incentive payments from MMBC to serve as collection contractors.

While the cities that agreed to that arrangement get money from MMBC they also relinquish their ability to sell recyclables, which will be turned over to MMBC-chosen processors when the new producer-pay system debuts May 19.

MMBC managing director Allen Langdon said Delta refused to accept the incentive and will continue handling blue box curbside pickup itself, without MMBC subsidy, although it could join later on.

The Township of Langley expressed interest in joining the MMBC system, but not until its current contract ends in 2016, Langdon said.

He said Coquitlam, Anmore and the University Endowment Lands chose a third option – letting MMBC to deliver curbside pickup directly by naming its own collection contractors.

Coquitlam recently signed a new contract with BFI Canada to collect garbage and organics only, saving the city $1 million a year by leaving the recyclables to MMBC.

All other municipalities accepted the incentive.

The changes are driven by the provincial government, which amended B.C.'s recycling regulation to force retailers and goods makers to take responsibility for removing all packaging and printed paper from the waste stream, at their own cost.

For households, it means more types of packaging can be deposited in blue boxes than are now accepted, including milk and soup containers, aerosol cans, plant pots and aluminum foil or plastic clamshell containers.

But MMBC doesn't want glass contaminating other recyclable materials, so glass jars and bottles may have to be separated and taken to depots once details of the new collection system are finalized.

Langdon said cities that opted to take the incentive could still opt to offer curbside pickup of glass in a separate bag or container – that's what Richmond has promised.

MMBC's payment to Surrey for single-family and multi-family curbside pickup works out to $4.5 million per year, according to Rob Costanzo, Surrey's deputy manager of operations.

"That just about covers the cost of recyclable collection for the city," Costanzo said.

He said there's potential to modestly reduce the $281 annual fee Surrey charges single family homes for garbage and recycling pickup as a result, but cautioned that rising regional waste-handling costs are expected to lift household fees over the lnog term.

The actual payment to cities could be lower after penalties are deducted for contamination of recyclables by unwanted materials.

Costanzo said Surrey's contamination levels are low already and MMBC's move to cap the penalties limits Surrey's worst-case fine to $240,000 per year.

Langdon says fines are a "tool of last resort" and MMBC would only order contamination audits if contracted processors notice high levels.

But fears that the new system will end up costing more persist in some cities.

New Westminster Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said he "reluctantly accepted" MMBC's subsidy so that residents there weren't taxed twice – once via municipally charged recycling fees and again through MMBC costs that are expected to filter down into higher prices charged by retailers.

Puchmayr said he's concerned New West won't be able to keep blue box contamination to no more than three per cent and penalties charged on amounts over that will eat into the MMBC payments.

"They’ll be clawing back $190,000 in potential contamination fees," he estimated. "It’s just a ridiculous system. It doesn’t benefit the environment, it doesn’t benefit us at all."

MMBC is allowing cities to opt out of the program with six months notice if they don't like it.

Municipal officials in Surrey and other cities don't yet know where they'll be sending the blue box material they collect.

Four large waste management companies are expected to bid by Jan. 10 for contracts from MMBC to process and sell the municipally collected packaging and paper.

MMBC is also issuing a request for proposals for collection in Coquitlam and other areas that relinquished that responsibility.

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