Multi Material BC opponents prepare for court fight

Businesses aim to thwart new recycling agency with legal action if province won't freeze rollout

Kelvin McCulloch

Business opponents of Multi Material BC are planning a court challenge to reverse the takeover of B.C.’s curbside recycling system by the stewardship agency.

They continue to urge the provincial government to freeze the new MMBC system before it takes effect May 19, but are also laying the groundwork for a legal battle.

Kelvin McCulloch, CEO of the Buckerfield’s chain of farm supply stores, is urging other businesses to sign and submit their MMBC contract but then give notice to the government that they won’t pay fees or otherwise cooperate with the new system to collect packaging and printed paper.

McCulloch intends to gather opt-out letters from numerous businesses across B.C. and deliver them to the province.

If the MMBC rollout continues, he said, they will argue in court  that the MMBC contracts were invalid and they were coerced to join the government-created recycling monopoly.

“We’re fairly confident at this point it will be struck down,” McCulloch said. “No company in their right mind would sign that contract of their own free will.”

The province contends MMBC is voluntary and various industries could instead form their own separate waste-collecting organization.

That option is not practical or reasonable, McCulloch said.

“The suggestion that we are able to launch or own stewardship program independent of MMBC is a sham.”

The MMBC program aims to transfer recycling costs from municipal taxpayers to the producers who generate packaging and printed paper, while collecting more containers and material types than before.

But many businesses argue they’re unfairly compelled to pay far higher fees than a similar system run in Ontario.

Critics say MMBC’s three-member interim board is controlled by executives with multinational firms like Unilever and Proctor and Gamble who have manipulated the launch of the new program to their benefit rather than the interests of most B.C. businesses.

Questioned by the NDP last week, Environment Minister Mary Polak said she expects a more representative 15-member permanent board to be named soon after MMBC’s launch.

Polak said it’s logical the biggest industries that pay the most into MMBC get a large role.

A new advisory council was also recently unveiled by MMBC with reps from several B.C. business groups, but critics say it has no real power.

Pausing the program and the payment of fees by member businesses would cut off the money MMBC will send to most local cities that agreed to continue curbside pickup.

“Any delay in implementation for those communities would mean a loss of that savings,” Polak said, adding many municipalities have already budgeted to receive promised MMBC payments.

She said examples of those amounts are $1.5 million a year coming to Richmond and $917,000 to Nanaimo.

Mike Klassen, B.C. director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said he’s not aware of any cities reducing their property taxes as a result of the expected MMBC savings.

“That’s one of the things that’s been most misleading – the idea that this was going to save money for the general taxpayer,” he said.

Klassen argues consumers will pay twice – their local taxes won’t go down but they’ll also pay higher retail prices as businesses pass along the MMBC charges.

He said most mayors and councils are being cautious and aren’t spending MMBC savings until they actually arrive – meaning there’s still opportunity to freeze the rollout.

“That suggests to me they’re also very wary of the program and have a fallback program in case things don’t work,” Klassen said.

“The world doesn’t all of a sudden turn upside down if we pause this program and take some time to reflect on how to do this well.”

Small businesses with single storefronts have been exempted by the province from MMBC’s requirements.

But Klassen said franchisees don’t qualify, leaving hundreds of small businesses like meat shops and Subway sandwich outlets facing hefty costs.

New Westminster picked for container plant

A new container recycling plant will be built in New Westminster to handle some of the packaging that will be collected under the new MMBC system.

Green By Nature, a consortium picked by MMBC to process and market recyclables, said the $15-million facility will be completed in early 2015, providing more efficient sorting of plastics.

MMBC managing director Allen Langdon said the state-of-the-art recycling facility will position B.C. as an industry leader.

It will bring 70 new jobs to New Westminster.

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