Recycle rollout needs clarity

The idea is to encourage printed paper and packaging recycling, while at the same time getting industry and end-users to pay for it.

I hope it was clear from our coverage this week of the recycling issue that Village of Burns Lake (VBL) council has not made any binding decision regarding curbside recycling, or any other kind of recycling.

I mention this because the subject of curbside recycling is bound to provoke much discussion across a broad range of opinion in Burns Lake.

All council has done is make sure that Burns Lake remains eligible for financial assistance from a provincial agency should the village decide to move ahead with some kind of printed paper and packaging (PPP) recycling program.

This prudent decision to keep options open will have to be followed upon quickly though. Multi Material Management B.C. (MMBC) expects binding contracts in place early enough for collection to begin in May, 2014. Had you heard of MMBC before today? I’ll confess that I hadn’t heard of it before the council meeting where VBL staff introduced council to the work both the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN) and the VBL have done regarding the MMBC offer of financial assistance to implement PPP recycling.

The idea is to encourage printed paper and packaging recycling, while at the same time getting industry and end-users to pay for it.

Currently, the cost of recycling is buried in the general cost of waste management. For example, the costs associated with those recycle bins at the landfill are included in your taxation.

It’s not clear how the new scenario would tease out those costs and assign them to industry and users. Start-up costs would be carried by the municipality – your tax dollars – and MMBC funding will eventually expire, leaving operational costs entirely on the shoulders of local government.

Diverting material from the landfill might mean a lower annual waste management budget on the part of the RDBN, thereby reducing the tax burden. Maybe Burns Lake will only need bi-weekly garbage pick-up because we’ll be recycling half our waste every other week. That would at least suggest a break-even scenario for operational costs, with recycling collection done one week and regular collection done the next.

There is some head-scratching that goes along with this rushed offer from MMBC.

When, exactly, does the cost of this program end up on the shoulders of industry and the consumer as opposed to the taxpayer, and how?

If it truly does end up being an industry-pay and user-pay system, then it makes good sense. We should be held responsible for the excessive packaging we face/demand every day. The consumer who demands it, and the industry that provides it, should pay for it.

This isn’t to say that economics should drive recycling. We might have good reasons to implement recycling at the municipal and regional levels, even if it costs the taxpayer money. Just like we have good reason to control air pollution, even if there’s no immediate economic benefit or relief.

It makes sense to force users and producers to pay for their excess.  Why should recycling-conscious tax payers subsidize the wasteful habits of less concerned neighbours? It might even make sense to subsidize PPP recycling through tax dollars, for the sake of a greener municipality. But which one is it; is this a potentially costly move towards a greener Burns Lake or a tax relief?

If we’re moving towards a kind of sin tax on trashing recyclable material, then we should just call it that instead of dressing it up like a proposal to ease the tax burden.