Who pays to recycle?

Village of Burns Lake council interested in curbside recycling; RDBN has no interest in the program as it would not benefit rural residents.

With the pending deadline for an offer of financial assistance from Multi-Material B.C. (MMBC) to implement residential recycling of paper and packaging, Village of Burns Lake (VBL) staff and council met with representatives of the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN) during a special meeting of council on Sept. 11, 2013.

Bill Miller, RDBN chair, accompanied by RDBN Director of Environmental Services Janine Dougall, and Hans Berndorff, RDBN financial administrator, were present at the meeting to help VBL council and staff formulate their response to the MMBC offer before the Sept. 17 deadline.

The MMBC proposal would partially and temporarily fund curbside and/or depot-based consumer recycling of printed material and packaging (see Lakes District News Sept. 4, 2013 for more background).

Village of Burns Lake council is keenly interested in pursuing curbside recycling, while the RDBN has no interest in the program as it would not benefit rural residents.

From the RDBN’s point of view, according to Miller, a central recycling depot would be the only way for the RDBN to participate in the program, but because the program fails to cover the cost of either curbside recycling or depot recycling, the regional district is caught in a bind.

“Incentives [from MMBC] do not cover costs fully, and our board has been very adamant in directing staff that the policy of board is not to subsidize industry with taxpayer dollars for extended producer responsibility [recycling] programs,” explained Dougall.

“At this point, there’s no guarantee that incentives for depots being offered by MMBC will even cover the operational costs of those depots let alone [associated] capital infrastructure costs.”

But the RDBN could agree to participate in a recycling depot, even though landfill diversion is likely never to be a cost-saving move.

“At the end of the day, recycling is never going to be cost effective,” Miller said. “It’s always going to be cheaper to bury it in a landfill.”

For the RDBN, a key issue is that the municipal tax base not receive better treatment than the rural tax base.

Under the local governments act, the RDBN is prohibited from using tax dollars to fund a program that results in nonequivalent services between rural and municipal tax bases.

Recently, the Village of Telkwa tested those waters.

The municipality of Telkwa made a proposal where they would work with the RDBN to provide curbside recycling for municipal residents and a mobile recycling depot for rural residents.

That offer was rejected by the RDBN, primarily because of the discrepancy in service levels between rural and municipal tax payers.

“Regional district taxpayer dollars, both rural and municipal were [suggested] to be used to provide curbside recycling to municipal and non-curbside recycling to rural [constituents],” Dougall said. “At that point, the proposal was turned down.”

The regional district can use tax dollars to provide equal services to both rural and municipal constituents, like a centrally located recycle depot, but that does not seem to be the direction the VBL wants to move.

The village favours curbside recycling.

Previously, village council suggested that they would like to pursue two possibilities with the RDBN.

The first, a return of a portion of municipal tax dollars from the RDBN environmental management budget if the village could show that landfill costs were being decreased through a recycling diversion program.

The second, by accessing a recycling reserve fund that has been accumulating in RDBN coffers set aside for areas A, E and the Village of Burns Lake.

Mayor Luke Strimbold broached the issue with Miller.

“If local [municipal] taxpayers make the effort to recycle, there’s an opportunity for a benefit across the entire region,” Strimbold said. “There’s less landfill waste. It may reduce the entire environmental service budget.”

“Is there an opportunity for local tax payers to access the recycling fund?”

Miller had previously explained that the tax benefit from decreased landfill costs would come back in only one way; through a reduced tax rate for all municipal and rural residents.

Regarding the recycling reserve fund and whether or not the village could access it, Miller’s sentiments were not cryptic.

Miller said, “Let me answer that question by saying, you’re increasing your services to municipal taxpayers, you’re drawing money from MMBC, and your tax payers are getting the benefit. In rural areas, we get nothing.”

Smithers and Houston are moving forward with the MMBC offer, as is Burns Lake.