BC Bottle and Recycling Depot Association’s Response to Mission Council Issues with Recycling Programs.

Mission mayor wants to play hardball with Recycle BC

As more Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) managed recycling programs are launched under BC’s Recycling Regulations, BC consumers and local government need to become more aware and diligent about how consumer paid recycling fees are used.

The BC government does not hold or manage the deposits, container recycling fees and other eco fees paid by consumers when consumers purchase goods. EPR Stewardship agencies created by brand owners hold and use those monies without any independent governing agency to monitor their activities or any  “all stakeholders” oversight. EPR stewardship agencies handpick their advisory boards to make sure they get what benefits their best interests.

Last year approximately 400 million dollars was paid out by BC consumers in eco fees and deposits when purchasing consumer goods. That is almost $85 per person in BC. That is in addition to what homeowners pay for recycling under their property taxes and what taxpayers pay for the disposal of materials that end up in landfills. Meanwhile approximately 100 million dollars (collective of programs) currently sit in EPR stewardship agencies’ slush funds gathering reported/unreported interest.

There is no accountability as BC lacks an Independent Governing Agency or Recycling Management Board to oversee any of these EPR recycling programs. Over the past 15 years (or more in some cases) and under the government eye, manufacturers have created monopolistic EPR Stewardship agencies to manage their recycling programs to their best interests and choose funding methods which benefit their goals of not paying their share to operate the recycling programs.

Bottle and Recycling Depots are individually owned and operated but depots must hold contracts with the designated EPR stewardship program agencies in order to receive handling fees for accepting materials from the public that are captured under EPR programs.

In our opinion this sets the stage for potential manipulation and corruption within the recycling programs as depots bear all the financial risks but are limited under regulation to do business only with the EPR monopolies that operate the programs. EPR program stewards can and do abuse depot operators by underpaying depots for the real cost of handling the materials and creating contracts and policies that do not contemplate or allow for increased handling fees to cover depot operating expense increases.

For example in BC not every bottle depot returns the full deposit back to consumers on beer containers (discounting deposit refunds) because not all bottle depots have a contract to do so with the stewardship agency responsible for the used beer containers. In fact less than half of the bottle depots in BC hold a contract to take back used beer containers. The beer industry uses liquor stores as the mainstay of their collection network knowing that liquor stores only accept 24 containers a day per person. The public assumes bottle depots accept all beverage containers but in order for non contracted depots to obtain any kind of revenue to cover handling costs of beer containers the depot must discount the deposit they give back to consumers. Some depots prefer discounting vs. being contracted as the handling fee offered by the used beer container stewards is significantly lower than depots receive to collect any other beverage container.

Effectively the beer industry is using the consumer to pay for a large percentage of their program costs. The depots and service providers that do hold contracts with the beer industry are currently facing contract cutbacks which will shift more program costs back onto consumers, taxpayers and depots and reduce service.

Most EPR programs have not offered any increases to handling fees since they started with the exception of one steward who recently offered depots a 6% increase over the next 5 years after their own consultant reports revealed that depot expenses to collect just their materials have risen over 50% in the last few years. Other EPR programs have avoided paying the real cost of handling materials by contracting not-for-profit thrift stores operated by volunteers and are sometime subsidised by government grants, again putting program costs onto consumers and taxpayers. EPR stewardship agencies also contract municipalities and regional districts that have access to taxpayer dollars to top up program costs.

Independently owned depots cannot afford to subsidise the recycling industry. Unlike municipalities and regional districts depots do not have access to public funds to subsidise their operations. Depots can only deliver the service as best they can for the pittance they get paid by EPR stewards.  As it stands, with more business costs predicted in the near future like the increase to the minimum wage consumers can expect less from a depot operating on fixed contracts which offer no trigger points for increases to handing fees.

The BC Bottle and Recycling Depot Association applauds Mission and other municipalities who want to play hardball with RecycleBC. In our opinion RecycleBC is one of the biggest abusers of the fees they collect from their members under their program. RecycleBC is also currently undermining the used beverage container program by actively collecting deposit bearing containers and not returning them to a contracted Encorp Return It depot. Instead Recycle BC and Encorp have created an arrangement whereby RecycleBC gets paid the deposit directly from Encorp who then avoids paying any handling fees to their own contracted depots. Like other stewards, RecycleBC has used program monies to develop a slush find that is currently estimated to be 30 million dollars in their first 2 years of their program.

EPR stewardship agencies also spend allot of money sponsoring each others agencies. RecycleBC sponsors the Vancouver Whitecaps. Is that how consumers envisioned their environmental fees to be used?

If municipalities want to make a real difference in recycling services for their constituents they should also include the rest of the EPR stewardship agencies in that hardball game and put them on notice that they expect proper service for the fees their constituents have paid in advance into the EPR system. They also need to support their local depot by insisting that government create an independent governing agency or Recycling Management Board that represents all stakeholders which will level the playing field and make EPR stewardship agencies to come to the table with fair handling fees so that the depot can be sustainable and provide better service now and plan for expansion.

Additionally, small communities, Municipalities and Regional Districts should use landfill waste audits to determine and charge back EPR stewardship programs for disposal fees of materials not returned for recycling.

The BC Bottle and Recycling Depot Association has for years asked government to create an all stakeholder independent governing agency or Recycling Management Board to protect the best interests of all stakeholders.

We ask for everyone's support in this ongoing initiative,