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MMBC gives cities more time to decide recycling role

The new agency in charge of a producer-pay recycling system coming for all packaging and printed paper is now pledging to give cities more time to decide how they'll participate.

Multi Material BC had come under fire from civic leaders who are protesting what they call unreasonable terms for their cities to act as curbside recycling collectors when the new system launches next spring.

Much criticism centred on a Sept. 16 deadline for cities to either commit to a contract to be a collector for MMBC, let the agency contract out blue box pickup to other collectors or else keep running recycling services without compensation from MMBC.

MMBC managing director Allen Langdon said Friday that deadline only applies for cities that want to be contractors when the rollout takes place in May of 2014, while ones that take more time can still join later.

"Some municipalities say they want more time to evaluate the offer," Langdon said.

"We're leaving it open-ended. They need more time, so we're giving them more time."

The provincially mandated program aims to make retailers, goods producers and newspapers that generate waste packaging and printed paper responsible for its collection and recycling.

Rather than replicate existing municipal recycling pickup systems, it was expected MMBC would pay cities to handle single-family residential collection.

But several mayors say the payments MMBC has offered cities is too low.

Cities fear they'll lose money and that their residents may end up paying twice to support recycling – once through their taxes and then again in stores as MMBC member retailers pass on their costs through higher prices.

Municipal leaders also warn the new MMBC system may mean worse service – MMBC could, for example, arbitrarily switch to less frequent pickup – and there are doubts as to whether recycling rates will improve or that producers will be motivated to use less packaging.

Vancouver council voted Thursday to indicate it wants to provide recycling services under a contract to MMBC, but "subject to negotiation of a mutually agreeable contractual and financial arrangement."

Vancouver's city manager and city engineer said they "cannot responsibly recommend signing" MMBC's current offer, estimating the city would be short at least $5.3 million per year.

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie welcomed the relaxation of the deadline but said MMBC must also show flexibility on terms.

"There is a reason to impose deadlines but we don't need to put ourselves under such pressure to make a deal," he said.

Civic leaders at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention are to debate an emergency resolution on the topic demanding a formal extension and other changes.

NDP environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert said the province's strategy to shift packaging responsibility to industry sounds good in theory but must work in the real world.

"If at the end of the day British Columbians have less access to recycling programs, and less waste is diverted from landfills, this policy has not been a success," he said. "The government needs to step in to ensure this doesn’t happen."

So far the newspaper industry has also balked at joining MMBC, citing differences over its share of the system costs and threatening to create their own newsprint collection system.

MMBC wants print publishing firms to indicate by Sept. 20 if they're in or out.

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