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NDP takes aim at Multi Material BC recycling 'failure' (with VIDEO)

The NDP is accusing the provincial government of handing over control of B.C.'s blue box recycling system to Toronto-based multinational executives who will be unaccountable while B.C. businesses and households pay higher costs.

Opposition small business critic Lana Popham raised the issue of Multi Material BC in the Legislature Monday, calling on the province to change course before the agency's new system for recycling packaging and printed paper takes effect May 19.

"If government doesn't take a step back, B.C.'s recycling system is going to end up in a giant dumpster," Popham said.

"The control of recycling should never have been outsourced to the large corporate interests based in Ontario and abroad. This is a profound failure. This program needs to be paused and the entire concept reconsidered."

Popham's comments follow the launch earlier this month of a campaign against MMBC by a coalition of business groups, including the newspaper industry, who say they can't afford to pay high fees imposed under the new system.

The provincially mandated system is designed to make generators of packaging and paper pay to collect and process it, but business critics contend it will be onerous due to high costs, paperwork and reporting obligations.

"The Liberal government loves to claim they're getting rid of red tape," Popham said in an interview Monday. "So it's quite ironic because MMBC is a Godzilla-sized red tape monster."

Although MMBC is registered as a society, Popham called it a "dummy corporation" because two of its three directors are Toronto-based senior executives with Loblaws and Unilever, while the third is MMBC managing director Allan Langdon.

Popham said the province should force MMBC to give B.C. stakeholders majority control.

The Saanich South NDP MLA said the MMBC system will be "dangerously close to monopoly" resulting in less competition and innovation in recycling.

She also said municipalities have been pressured into signing contracts with inadequate compensation for their costs, the threat of penalties for contamination and a gag clause.

MMBC's new recycling fees on businesses will be passed along to consumers through higher prices, Popham said, calling it a "hidden tax" that won't be transparent to consumers.

Meanwhile, she says cities that the government says will save money are unlikely to reduce property taxes that households already pay for recycling.

"The slogan for MMBC should probably be 'Recycle once, but pay twice.'"

In some cities where MMBC won't provide services, such as Kamloops, residents will pay for nothing if retail prices rise broadly, Popham added.

MMBC says it will take new types of containers and packaging not collected in B.C. before.

But Popham noted glass will no longer be collected curbside in many cities and there's little evidence the system will improve recycling rates overall.

She said a smarter approach would have been to extend the beverage can deposit-refund system to more containers, such as milk cartons and laundry detergent jugs.

Liberal MLA Eric Foster (Vernon Monashee) responded in the Legislature, saying the province made changes to exempt most businesses from MMBC fees and paperwork if they earn less than $1 million in revenue, generate less than one tonne per year of packaging, or operate as a single outlet.

"We've got all kinds of validation on this — chambers of commerce, local government, opportunities for local government to either continue the way they're doing it or to have MMBC put their contractors in there to pick up," said Foster, who serves on the government's environment and land use committee.

"MMBC came forward as an opportunity to change people's way of doing business and to put the onus on the original producers of the waste product or the recyclable product to reduce."

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