Business

Polak says province won't bend to MMBC holdouts

Environment Minister Mary Polak says it
Environment Minister Mary Polak says it's too late for a pause on the rollout of the Multi Material BC recycling system.
— image credit: File

Several agricultural businesses are vowing to defy Multi Material BC and refuse to pay into B.C.'s new package recycling system.

Kelvin McCulloch, CEO of the Buckerfield's chain of farm supply stores, said his firm and other mainly garden suppliers will try to develop their own stewardship program to collect and recycle their packaging in compliance with provincial government regulation.

He said he's abandoned hope the government might freeze the MMBC system, set to take effect May 19, and added a court challenge is one option if setting up a separate program proves unworkable.

Several letters sent by firms including Eddi's Wholesale Garden Supplies, Cinnabar Valley Farms and Cobs Breads have gone to government serving notice they won't comply.

McCulloch maintains MMBC is an illegitimate, unaccountable "monopoly" that businesses have been "coerced" by the province to join because there's no real alternative.

Higher fees than are charged by a similar package-and-paper recycling scheme in Ontario is a key complaint.

But Environment Minister Mary Polak said misinformation about the program is rampant in the business community and much of it is coming from McCulloch.

"He refuses to listen to the information provided him," she said, adding Buckerfield's is likely largely exempt from MMBC fees because most of its products go to farms, not consumers.

Likewise, she said, many other businesses wrongly believe their fees will be much higher than is the case, due to either low flat fees or exemptions for all but the largest generators of packaging.

The decision to make companies whose packaging enters the waste stream responsible for the costs of handling it was a national agreement with other environment ministers, she said.

Those who want to go their own way can still pursue an alternative stewardship system, Polak said, adding breweries are advancing their own system and talks are also underway with the newspaper industry.

Polak said MMBC can't be subject to provincial audits – as McCulloch has demanded – because it is not an arm of government, but is regulated and accountable as a non-profit.

She said organizations representing dairy farms, landscaping and nursery firms, as well as the B.C. Agriculture Council, are now part of an MMBC advisory council.

As for demands for a freeze on the program, Polak said that's not possible.

"We are way too far down the road to be pausing it," she said.

Doing so would stop the rollout of curbside blue box pickup to smaller communities that haven't had it before, throw into chaos collection arrangements in cities where MMBC is set to take over and block the flow of MMBC payments to most municipalities that will continue as contractors under the new system, she said.

"If suddenly you told the Capital Regional District they're going to have to find $4.8 million, I don't think anyone would find that very acceptable."

Asked if businesses that don't pay into MMBC will soon face provincially imposed fines, Polak said enforcement may vary according to how much waste is generated.

"Tim Horton's is part of the program," she said. "If they hadn't signed on maybe there's a more serious discussion about penalties than if you're dealing with a medium-sized flower grower or something like that."

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