Newspapers and MMBC fall out over recycling fees

Image Credit: Black Press File Photo
Image Credit: Black Press File Photo

One of the more interesting developments in the struggle to introduce extended producer responsibility (EPR) in British Columbia is the reaction of the organization that represents the newspaper industry to the new recycling system that’s to be introduced next year, and how it will be funded. According to an article in the Surrey Leader (reproduced below), newspapers Canada is balking at the fees proposed by Multi-Material BC (MMBC) — the stewardship organization that represents industry and funding in the province. (Newspapers Canada is not a member of MMBC.)

Newspapers Canada represents a product whose end-of-life material (old newsprint or “ONP”) constitutes a significant portion of what gets collected and recycled via municipal curbside programs. ONP is one of those materials that always made sense to recycle, even before the introduction of the Blue Box in the 1980s. (I recall helping my parents bundle our old papers with string each week and setting the bundle at the curb on garbage collection day.) ONP is in demand from newspapers and other entities that use it as recycled content.

But newspapers have enjoyed a sweetheart deal over the years; instead of contributing cash to industry portions of net recycling costs, newspapers have made “in kind” donations in the form of free advertising for the recycling programs. This made a certain amount of sense in the past, but the brave new world of EPR is not simply about funding formulas for municipal programs. Instead, EPR makes businesses responsible for the end-of-life management of their product and packaging wastes. Period. If it makes sense for a company or a whole industry to contract with municipalities to collect (and possibly process) their byproducts, they’re free to do so. If not, they’re free to develop their own system for retrieving and recycling stuff.

Of course, municipal curbside collection makes a lot of sense for old newspapers. It’s hard to imagine the newspaper industry setting up its own parallel system, though it’s not outside the realm of possibility. Newspapers Canada is likely crunching the numbers of doing that right now.

I’m always amused to see how quickly dyed-in-the-wool capitalists become screaming socialists, calling for government programs and subsidies, whenever they’re forced to deal with their own crap! Newspapers are no exception. The reps for the newspaper industry are very quick to extoll the virtues of the existing system and what a great job municipalities do. Why? Because taxpayers foot the bill. The reps even turn to regional fear mongering, saying that bigwigs from central Canada will call the shots in what should be a regional program.

That being said, I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the newspaper folk. It’s reasonable for them to be wary of how fees will be calculated and that they’re been charged the true net costs of collecting and recycling their material. And all this comes at a time when newspapers are losing readers to the internet and “free” information. But there are no doubt ways to hold MMBC’s feet to the fire and ensure that the fees are accurate, and to build mechanisms into the system to correct for any overcharging over time.

In the end, if BC or any other jurisdiction is serious about EPR, its going to have to require businesses to be individually responsible for the end-of-life management costs of their products and packaging. It’s an idea whose time has come and it has an air of inevitability about it now. The public is certainly ready and the municipal sector really needs to get these costs off its books. Indeed, as much as we love our Blue Box programs, having taxpayers fund the program has led to a gross market distortion of companies either getting a subsidy for management of their recyclable materials, or avoiding any costs entirely by selling products that never become part of the BLue Box program in the first place.

In a true EPR system (yet to become a reality anywhere in Canada), producers would pay not only for the costs of what gets recycled (which seems to be the current obsession) but also what gets landfilled or otherwise disposed. That would be a much larger bill and would powerfully encourage companies to either design waste right out of the products and packaging, or at least make them easily recyclable and economically worth recycling. In true EPR I think we’ll see a return to refillable beverage containers, eventually, and a lot of return-to-retail programs and incentive programs that industry has had little interest in, when all the material disappears so conveniently into the maw of municipal waste management infrastructure, paid for by others.

It will be interesting to see how the newsprint component of the MMBC program plays out in 2014. And here’s the article from the Surrey Leader:


Newspaper industry, MMBC fall out over recycling fees

Newsprint will still be collected in blue boxes even though there’s no deal between the newspaper industry in B.C. and Multi-Material BC on how a new recycling system coming next year will be funded.

  • posted Nov 27, 2013 at 1:00 PM

Multi-Material BC will accept newsprint even though it has no deal yet with B.C.’s newspaper industry to contribute to the costs of the expanded blue box recycling system that will roll out next year.

Newspapers Canada president and CEO John Hinds said newspaper firms had an agreement with MMBC to make their contribution through in-kind advertising.

But MMBC later came back and pressed for payment mostly in cash – equivalent to draining $6 million a year from the print newspaper industry.

“The newspaper industry simply can’t afford the millions of dollars in fees they’re looking to set,” Hinds said. “Our view is we had an agreement. We negotiated in good faith and we expected them to honour that agreement.”

Newspapers Canada represents the three main publishing groups – community newspaper publishers Black Press (owner of this newspaper) and Glacier Media, as well as Postmedia, owner of the Vancouver Sun and The Province.

Hinds said MMBC’s reversal came after it became part of a national producer stewardship group, the Canadian Stewardship Services Alliance, which is mainly controlled by multinational firms like Unilever, Walmart, and Proctor and Gamble.

Newsprint makes up about half of what goes into blue boxes but Hinds said newspaper firms were given no representation on MMBC or CSSA.

He noted 85 per cent of newsprint is already recycled and it makes up the most valuable recyclable commodity.

“We feel we’re the gold star pupils of the blue box,” Hinds said, adding unfair fees on newspapers would effectively subsidize the international consumer goods firms that must now recycle more packaging.

Allen Langdon, managing director for Multi-Material BC, said all member stewards are expected to contribute financially to the costs and letting newspapers do so in-kind would have left other firms unfairly subsidizing them.

“I would gather the newspapers are still figuring out how they want to discharge their obligations under the regulation,” Langdon said, noting papers have a duty to collect the waste they generate, regardless of whether or not they are ultimately represented by MMBC.

As it stands, print newspapers are not MMBC members.

Hinds had previously said the newspaper industry might look at its own newsprint retrieval system, but said for now it’s “great” if MMBC wants to collect it.

He said he remains concerned that the entire MMBC initiative is badly flawed and will put at risk the “really good” recycling programs run by municipalities.

“Decisions are no longer going to be made locally, they’re going to be made in Toronto or Arkansas or wherever else about B.C.’s recycling programs,” Hinds said.

“I don’t think this works for the environment and I don’t think this works for communities.”

RELATED STORY: B.C. cities vote on joining MMBC recycling system

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  • This entire conversation is focused on costs and who pays for what. But EPR was supposed to be about “producer pay”. yet a large part of the funding for these programs, especially PPP EPR, comes in the form of a consumer like tax on the products or packaging embedded in the cost of the products and packaging or a visible Eco fee charged at the point of purchase. Under the current system, consumers/taxpayers pay twice. When we switch over to PPP EPR, you state a couple of things.

    “The reps for the newspaper industry are very quick to extol the virtues of the existing system and what a great job municipalities do. Why? Because taxpayers foot the bill” and “The public is certainly ready and the municipal sector really needs to get these costs off its books.”

    Now if what you are referring to is correct and taxpayers will see relief by “getting these costs off the books”, then should it not stand to reason taxpayers, ah that would be us, will be seeing staff levels shrink at regional and municipal governments and a net cost savings to taxpayers in the form of tax reductions once MMBC kicks into action next may. So if municipal/regional staff no longer will be managing this service and taxpayers no longer have to pay “because tax relief is coming”, how come we have not seen one conversation about this pending tax relief?

    It is all well and good to get “producers to pay”, but the reality is that PPP EPR will be mostly paid for by consumers and we will have yet another giant bureaucracy to manage this bad PPP EPR plan. What is worse, I doubt very much there will be tax relief coming, I doubt government staffs will shrink but I do think that taxpayers will be hit twice, we will still pay the taxes, there won’t be a roll back but we will now pay a new hidden consumer tax to help pay for this plan.

    Will the producers be forced to make better packaging? Will more recycled content be required in packaging with this PPP EPR plan? Will this plan support local community recycling infrastructure already in place, or will this plan divert control to a centralized urban monopoly control?

    Very valid conversation Guy and you point out some amazing points. But PPP EPR is much more then about collection and who pays for it. I sense the front of the pipe preventive ideas and solutions working with a better designed packaging product, which includes more refill and reuse is not even o the table any more. Perhaps the conversation now should be about delaying this bad PPP EPR plan until all stakeholders have been heard from. The vast recycling businesses and Not For Profits haven’t been included. We stand to be wiped out as an industry, so perhaps our voices should be heard?

    This MMBC plan has to be taken back to the drawing board, just to make sure the option for permitting some PPP materials to be incinerated, must be removed as a disposal option, especially since Metro Vancouver and the RCBC are all about “Zero Waste”. Since there is no burning in genuine Zero Waste, how can incineration of any of the PPP materials be allowed?