The Regional District of Central Kootenay says it supports having a choice in paper and packaging recycling after hearing a pitch from a potential competitor to industry stewardship group Multi-Material BC.
Neil Hastie, development director for StewardChoice Enterprises, spoke to the board Thursday by phone. The company, a subsidiary of Toronto-based Reclay StewardEdge, has managed recycling programs in Ontario, Manitoba, and Germany.
“We are at a crossroads in BC when it comes to recycling packaging and printed paper,” Hastie said. “There will either be the continuation of a monopoly or choices for local governments and other important stakeholders.”
The company is seeking approval from the Ministry of Environment to offer its own program and promises to fill gaps left by Multi-Material BC by signing up hold-out producers.
Multi-Material BC, which launched its program in May to meet a provincial mandate that firms pay the cost of recycling their own packaging, hasn’t yet been able to offer service to rural areas of the regional district. However, it is paying for curbside pick-up in Nelson, Castlegar, Kaslo, and Nakusp.
The regional district board initially refused to sign a contract with Multi-Material BC, saying it would not cover all the costs, but later changed its mind, worried that not signing up could result in a drastically reduced depot system. However, it was told it would have to wait until 2015.
The regional district opted to keep the status quo and continue offering recycling services at a cost of over $900,000 that it otherwise would have saved.
Hastie said StewardChoice’s approach is “to work closely with communities and recycling providers to allow service to continue the way it currently operates. What service residents are receiving should be continued without disruption.”
Asked how the company could afford to do that, Hastie replied that it would be more efficient and have lower overhead than Multi-Material BC.
The company received plaudits from several directors, including chair John Kettle who called Multi-Material BC “a disaster for the most part for rural areas.”
“Right now we have no other options,” he said. “Competition gives us opportunities. We may end up with a program that works and still lets us cut taxation.”
Rural Kaslo director Andy Shadrack called Multi-Material BC “dictatorial” and their fencing and staffing requirements on rural depots “absolute bullshit.”
“They say they want to take us on, but it’s still on their terms. We would have to reduce recycling depots and I don’t want to do that. StewardChoice says if we want to keep running the program, that’s fine.”
Other directors were skeptical, including rural Nelson rep Ron Mickel, who said “It sounded too good to be true. They still need producers signing up so I’m a little leery.”
Although some producers have signed letters of intent to join StewardChoice’s program, the company expects approval of its plan to take up to a year.
Hastie said it would require political pressure on Environment Minister Mary Polak to speed things up. The board agreed to urge her to allow competition in the field.
Meanwhile, the regional district continues to talk to Multi-Material BC about getting away from strict site requirements.
Environmental services manager Uli Wolf said while they have also spoken to StewardChoice, he expects it could be anywhere from four months to a year and a half before the company can make commitments.
“We need to be realistic in our expectations from StewardChoice,” he said. “It will be very difficult to get into that market and offer a ‘we cover everything’ service.”
Rural Nelson director Ramona Faust also asked why industry doesn’t just reimburse the regional district for the service it’s already providing. “Let us do what we do and offset the taxes,” she said. “It’s simplistic, however it’s probably the best model for us.”
— With files from Jeff Nagel, Surrey North Delta Leader