What BC’s new “Blue Box” Program Plan should look like

The province of British Columbia has asked industry “stewards” (brandowners and retailers) to design an industry-funded program for the collection, processing and marketing of residential printed paper and packaging. This is what the Program Plan should look like:

1. It should include all printed paper and packaging

There should be no exceptions. No Ontario/Quebec/Manitoba-type systems where maybe 80% of the materials are collected with the rest to come at some distant time in the future. Why? Because that’s what the BC Ministry of Environment is asking for, for one. The BC regulation clearly says “all printed paper and packaging”. It does not say “the materials for which there are currently markets.”  It says all. Having all materials in the program is a game-changer.

It means several things, in addition to meeting the stewards’ legal obligations. It means that all stewards will have the opportunity to actually have their materials collected (and not be paying for a program that doesn’t collect their particular items). It means a level playing field between materials (instead of funding formulas that are over-weighted toward the cost of recycling materials rather than penalising those that aren’t). It promotes a consistent, harmonised, one-message to consumers across the province on what is collected (all paper and packaging, no exceptions). And it places an increasing emphasis on design for recycling or end-of-life (something the BC ministry also wants).

2. If all materials are in, then clearly both collection and processing are going to be much different than what exists today.

Collection: The collection program is going to have to be able to handle a wide range of printed paper and packaging materials (some 115 different types, according to a list compiled by Dan Lantz of Cascades Recovery). The current program cannot do that, and is inefficient partly because collection is based on individual municipal borders and jurisdictions. This is no fault of the municipalities, they have inherited the situation. But collection is more efficient when it is based on collection zones that make geographic and demographic sense, rather than when one municipal border runs up against another.

Collection of over 100 different materials also means collection methods need to be unified and consistent. Given that BC’s proposed recovery program is predominantly a paper one (80%), it would seem to make sense to collect in two different streams (paper fibres, and glass, plastic and metal containers). Two-stream collection has proven to be lower cost (important to the stewards funding it); to maximize the quality and value of the materials collected; and to offer more flexibility in program design.

Processing: Processing over 100 different materials also requires new design formats upfront. A strong processing industry (including PPEC members) already exists in BC, and is prepared to invest in new material recovery facility (MRF) design once the stewards/province agree that the program covers all printed paper and packaging (not just materials that are widely recycled now). It is far more cost-efficient to design upfront rather than add on pieces later at considerable steward expense.

To make those investments, the processors have to raise capital, and they can only do that if they have in their hands some strong guarantees that the materials they are designing their plants around will actually arrive in the quantities and qualities expected. It also makes sense for processors to use these same plants for industrial, commercial and institutional (IC & I) materials being recycled. There are proven economies of scale in working this way, and lower steward costs (for the residential sector materials) as a result.

3. Municipalities will clearly be involved in the transition and beyond

The BC government wants to move from a municipal controlled and taxpayer funded program to one that is industry-controlled and industry-funded. That means that the current collection infrastructure (mostly contracted out to the private sector on a municipal border basis) needs to be closely scrutinised for improved efficiencies. There is no reason, however, why a municipality should not bid for a collection or processing contract in the future along with private sector bidders. And because municipalities are responsible for managing the collection of other material streams from BC households (organics, garbage etc.), they will continue to interface with the new industry-run printed paper and packaging program anyway. This is the time for the province and the stewards to grasp the opportunity to deliver something very special in BC, not for emotion and turf protection and politics to get in the way.

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John Mullinder

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)
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