On the cusp of making a decision about recycling, the District of Tumbler Ridge has been forced to rethink its plans.
The topic has been hotly debated by Council and by locals for the last few years.
The issue became a hot button issue last year, when the District changed from an unmanned drop off centre located in the parking lot behind the Lake View Credit Union to a manned recycling centre at the transfer station.
The move, while viewed as inconvenient for most people and opposed by many, especially those without vehicles who used to be able to walk their recycling downtown, was seen an essential one for the District’s plans to move to curbside pick-up.
But that plan was dependent on backing from Multi-Materials BC (MMBC), a not-for-profit organization made up of industry members including Walmart, Loblaws, Proctor & Gamble and Coca Cola.
When Tumbler Ridge signed onto the program last year, it was under the impression that it was on the path to curbside recycling.
This, however, does not appear to be the case. At a recent meeting with MMBC, Mayor Don McPherson was told no new communities were being added to the list, and that smaller municipalities shouldn’t build their recycling plans around the hopes of curbside pickup through MMBC.
MMBC is mandated by the Province of BC to collect and process at least 75 percent of printed paper and packaging (PPP). In Tumbler Ridge, that figure was at less than 30 percent last year, and has dropped since moving recycling down to the transfer station.
With the District of Tumbler Ridge moving towards curbside recycling, its first step was to convert the town’s recycling collection station to an MMBC Depot. One of their requirements is to have a manned collection site. This allows the operators to control the amount of contamination that is collected and to offer education in recycling at the site, according to MMBC. It also allows the District to process, co-mingle and bale almost all of the products, which will improve the efficiencies in the processing and shipment of the products.”
On the surface, moving the recycling down to the transfer station doesn’t help the District get to its recycling goal of 75 percent.
However, this was only the first step towards curbside recycling, a necessary evil between the previous recycling method of an unmanned station downtown—which was discontinued once the District signed on with MMBC as this style of collection leads to a great deal of contamination—and curbside recycling, which would lead to an estimated 700 percent increase in the amount of recycling collected.
Curbside would be simple and easy. Simply place the recyclable materials in a bin, then place the bin out at the end of your driveway.
But at the March 24 Peace River Regional Board Meeting, Multi Material BC Managing Director said that the curbside program is on hold for now.
What is MMBC?
MMBC is a non for profit organization, which was created from a government initiative to shift the cost of recycling packaging and printed paper from taxpayers to the businesses that produce these materials.
The organization is staffed in BC, and has an Industry Advisory Committee made up of BC people, but is governed by the Canadian Stewardship Services Alliance, a national organization tasked with a similar mission as MMBC. Members of the board including executives from Unilever, Walmart, Loblaws, Proctor & Gamble and Coca-Cola.
Under the BC Recycling Regulation, which came into effect in 2014, responsibility for end-of-life management of residential packaging and printed paper shifted from governments and their taxpayers to the businesses that produce these materials. The MMBC was formed to help businesses meet their obligations under the Regulation.
As part of the regulations, MMBC must take responsibility for the collection and disposition of the recycling, frequently working with the existing collection infrastructure.
The District currently collects recycling on behalf of the Regional District, who runs the program for MMBC. If the District were to move to a curbside recycling program, collected every two weeks, it would cost the district approximately $440,000 per year over the next 15 years, according to a report that came before council recently.
With the incentives provided by MMBC, as well as the organization covering the cost of pick up and processing of the material, the cost of the same service would only be $143,000 over the next 15 years.
These are, admits CAO Jordan Wall who authored the report, very rough figures, especially when the nature of the MMBC program is not certain. But it shows the impact that signing onto the program would have.
That is, if the District were able to sign on.
Not moving forward.
Blame it on the newspapers.
According to MMBC Managing Director Langdon, the newspaper industry as a whole hasn’t joined MMBC, This means they’re not in compliance with the provincial regulations. Because they’re not paying their fair share, says Langdon, MMBC doesn’t have the funds to move forward.
“Right now, we’re picking up newspapers as part of our collection program,” says Langdon, “but until the newspaper industry starts picking up their fair share, we don’t have enough. Glacier Press, Black Press and Post Media haven’t joined MMBC, even though they are obligated.”
But, says, Langdon, it’s not the MMBC’s responsibility to force the companies to join. “It’s not really our issue,” he says. “We have a stewardship plan; obligation for compliance is on individual companies. It’s up to them to meet the regulations, or for the province to enforce it.”
He says without buy-in from the newspaper industry, it will be hard to expand the program. “Our members are in compliance,” he says. “It’s difficult for me to make a case to go back to my members and ask them to pay more, when there are these sectors of the industry that aren’t paying at all.”
This means that there will not be any new communities added to the MMBC program for the foreseeable future. “We’re not accepting anyone new into the program right now,” says Langdon.
Even worse for Tumbler Ridge, he’s making no promises. “Not every community is going to be eligible for curbside; we haven’t decided what that line is. Right now there’s a depot in Tumbler Ridge. We think it’s working well. It’s run by the Regional District, but we pick up the material. I think the current situation works for Tumbler Ridge.”
Langdon says in Ontario, for instance, communities under 5000 people are not eligible for curbside recycling. He is quick to point out that this isn’t what MMBC is planning on doing; he’s just pointing out the difficulties faced by doing collection in smaller communities. “If a community is counting on it [being a part of the MMBC program], they might not be prudent. There are a lot of moving parts in this system, and making a decision based on future inclusion wouldn’t be wise at this time.”
Setting up a curbside recycling program for a community like Tumbler Ridge may not be feasible for MMBC when, as Langdon points out, the recycling collected in Tumbler Ridge is far less than one percent of the total recycling in the province. While MMBC is obligated to recycle 75 percent of the PPP produced in BC, they have managed to move the needle far more by focusing on the larger centres like Vancouver, Victoria and Kamloops.
“By moving to a manned depot [in Tumbler Ridge], we pay for pickup transportation and dealing with that material, which is an overall improvement,” he says. “Unmanned depots have significantly high contamination rate. We’re doing what we can to get the lowest contamination rates possible. I understand it’s a transition, but from a recycling perspective, it’s the best way. When unmanned, you get a lot of garbage.”
Langdon says that they’re at least a year and a half to two years away before making the decision to expand the program, but he says it’s unlikely that there will be curbside pickup across the entire province. “Until the newspaper issue is resolved, we can’t really move forward. However, it’s really the government and the newspaper industry that need to figure that out. We’re concentrating on running what we think is a very positive program.”
So what are the options for the District moving forward?
Well, they could continue to wait for inclusion into the MMBC program before moving to a Curbside pickup. Despite Langdon’s cautions, Tumbler Ridge is well situated to move into curbside recycling says Jeff Rahn, General Manager of Environmental Services for the Peace River Regional District. Last year, the District purchased a new bailer on the assumption that the amount of recycling was going to increase dramatically. This puts the District well ahead of many other municipalities as far as preparedness goes.
“The fact that he [Langdon] is vague on that score means it is not something hard and fast in their stewardship plan,” says Rahn. “If they were to make a pitch for not doing curbside for communities smaller than 5000 people, I expect there would have to be public consultation into amending the plan, and that would be dictated by the Ministry of Environment. I expect we’ll get some clarity as the program moves forward.”
Indeed, according to sources at the Ministry of Environment, MMBC does provide curbside service to a number of communities with under 5000 population. “Communities would need to look at the financial feasibility of their own individual situations, to what degree they could meet the MMBC requirements e.g. minimum tonnage, how far the incentives would go towards such costs, and if both MMBC depot and curbside service could be justified,” says the source.
But waiting means waiting at least two years, and quite possibly more, before a decision is made, with no guarantee the District would actually be selected as an MMBC.
Another option? Move forward with curbside recycling without MMBC. But that’s at a much higher premium, as the District would be responsible for all the costs of recycling. For 2016, the cost of moving to pick-up once every two weeks would be about $572,000, compared to an estimated $221,000 under the MMBC program.
While Tumbler Ridge could still be part of the MMBC program, MMBC would only be responsible for the recycling collected at the Transfer Station depot. MMBC would not take responsibility for the recycling collected curbside, and so the District would have to use a third party broker—most likely Eco-Depot out of Fort St John, who the District was using previously—and pay them for transportation and post-processing of the recycling. While the cost of that would have to be negotiated, Rahn says, there are other communities in the Northeast that have moved to curbside.
“Some of our municipalities have gone ahead with Curbside: Fort St John and Pouce Coupe,” says Rahn. “The material they’re collecting is being handled under our contract with Eco-Depot; they’re processing that material and passing it on. If any other municipality were interested in initiating its own curbside program, we’d have to negotiate that on a case by case basis.”
The cost? $900/tonne.
Right now, says Rahn, the District is running the drop-off station at the transfer station as an MMBC-approved facility. This means, says Langdon, the facility is able to take things that it wasn’t able to before, like Styrofoam.
While the move down to the Transfer Station met with much opposition, MMBC is happy with the way it’s working. “Right now there’s a depot in Tumbler Ridge,” says Langdon. “We think it’s working well. It’s run by the Regional District, but we pick up the material. I think the current situation works for Tumbler Ridge.”
Rahn says the Regional District is also trying to figure out MMBC and how it works for them. He has set up a meeting with Tumbler Ridge’s Operations Manger Doug Beale to talk about these things. “It was a resolution of our board to meet with municipal members to meet with our members to talk about curbside recycling, how to handle the material that flows out. There’s a number of things to figure out here, and there’s complicating factors around enforcement and MMBC waiting. We’re exploring with the member municipalities what their plans are.”
He says this is something that is important to the Regional District as well. “Without being engaged with MMBC, the Regional District would be responsible for what happens. The decision to go to curbside independently is something that would have to be made by Tumbler Ridge Council, but the meeting that we’re having is to help them figure out the arrangements.”
While each Municipality is small, together, there are over 60,000 people living in the Peace Regional District. What if all the municipalities banded together for Curbside pickup?
Rahn doesn’t think that’s an option. While 60,000 people seems like a lot, that’s barely one percent of the total population of BC, and those 60,000 people are spread out over thousands of square kilometres, making it difficult for communities to share resources when it comes to recycling. He believes that any agreement made for curbside would have to be made by each community directly.
Already, the District is under pressure to go back to the old bin system, but that wouldn’t necessarily be the best solution, either, as it would mean abandoning the MMBC program, and the financial incentives therein. As well, it would mean going back to the previous contractor, which doesn’t accept as many items, and costs more.
And abandoning recycling altogether? Also not a good option. Never mind the environmental impact; it would also be more expensive.
Currently the Province has not put significant fiscal fines on communities who have not followed suit but that likely will not be the case in the future, says the report. “The Province has now started to fine ‘producers’ (companies that produce products that end up in our solid waste stations) who have not partnered with companies like MMBC to help decrease the cost of recycling on communities.”
Tumbler Ridge currently produces about 950 tonnes of waste per year. Having a recycling program allows our per tonnage fee to be $55/tonne. “Should we discontinue recycling,” says the report, “our per tonne fee would increase to $225 and would likely increase further as the Province sought to further incentive us to recycle.”
This would drive the cost of not recycling up to at least $214,000 per year, and possibly more. The Provincial Government has in recent years put a heavy emphasis for BC communities to become more green through emissions reductions and waste management, and there’s the expectation that the province would levy more fines and penalties on communities that are not compliant.
And, says Rahn, the District was a signatory to the PRRD waste management plan. “To not do recycling would be a violation of that plan. That’s why we have the plan. I don’t know how that would go. The expectation of the plan is all municipalities are participating to reduce waste going to the landfill.”
From an environmental point of view, moving to curbside, even without MMBC, would be the best option. From a financial view, it would be the worst.
A recycling baler was recently purchased by the District, at a cost of about $140,000. However, it hasn’t been installed yet. If the District moved to curbside, the amount of material would increase by 700 percent, and the current building is not large enough to hold that amount of recycling. The District was planning on a new recycling building but that, too is on hold.
A new automated solid waste truck would need to be purchased, as well as new bins for residents. “With the decrease in expected solid waste material we would suggest moving to an alternate weekly pick up schedule of recycle vs non-recyclable materials. This would significantly decrease the operating costs associated with waste pick-up.”
Even so, at an estimated $900/tonne for Eco-Depot to take care of the District’s recycling, the cost is too rich for Council’s blood.
Is there a middle ground?
With the District’s hopes of curbside on hold, possibly for good, is there a middle ground? Currently, having a depot is enough for MMBC, but most people in town don’t like having to go down to the Transfer station.
According to the Ministry of Environment, many smaller communities have chosen to have various Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) stewardship programs delivered through a depot model, whereby a local (public or private) depot hosts various programs. “Such a ‘one-stop-drop’ approach offering greater consumer convenience with multiple EPR programs has proven very popular – especially when combined with other waste management and recycling services such as yard and garden drop off, wood waste recycling, drywall recycling, garbage disposal, etc.”
Tumbler Ridge already has a limited EPR program in place, with an Encorp beverage container recycling facility in the light industrial park. While the program is being run privately, and the space there is limited, there is always a possibility that the program could be expanded, especially with District backing or guidance.
Operations Manager Doug Beale says while MMBC re requires that a depot be manned, there is no requirement for a staff to be hovering over the bins.
Another option that has not been discussed by Council is the option of opening up a recycling drop of station at one of the District’s downtown properties, like town hall, or the Community Centre.
Instead, at the most recent Council meeting, Council directed staff to investigate the cost of having the transfer station open from 10 to 4, Tuesdays to Fridays, with the option of having drop off bins at the transfer station site, and having the attendant at the transfer station look after the recycling as well as the waste.
So for now, at least, it looks like the recycling depot will remain at the transfer station. This meets the demands of the MMBC program, but doesn’t help the people in town who are unwilling or unable to bring their recycling there.