A new stewardship group called StewardChoice Enterprises aims to oversee recycling collection for apartment buildings on behalf of companies that generate waste.

Recycling rival to MMBC seeks green light

Would competition from StewardChoice fix monopoly problems or destabilize industry-paid recycling system?

A new industry group is seeking provincial approval to oversee recycling pickup from urban apartments but questions persist over how its plan will work.

StewardChoice Enterprises has pitched itself as a parallel offering to Multi-Material BC and wants the province to approve its plan to serve as a second stewardship group to handle packaging and printed paper.

StewardChoice argues MMBC’s recycling collection system isn’t yet serving most multifamily buildings in Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria, where it initially aims to operate.

Businesses that object to being members of MMBC – many call it an unresponsive monopoly – would have the choice to instead pay into StewardChoice to meet their responsibility to finance the recovery of their waste packaging and paper under B.C.’s recycling regulation.

Metro Vancouver planners and politicians told the regional district’s zero waste committee Thursday there are too many unknowns to say if the proposal is beneficial.

“I do think competition could actually drive solutions to some of the problems we’re facing with MMBC,” Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer said. “It could also confuse the heck out of it so nobody knows what’s going on.”

She said competition in packaging stewardship might spur all the players to be more transparent and fix problems that have drawn complaints from local cities.

Reimer wants firm targets to increase package and paper recycling rates, more focus by producers on reducing package waste at the front end and improved pickup of glass, which MMBC isn’t accepting curbside in most cities.

She noted MMBC’s monopoly made for one-sided negotiations with city councils.

“In a competitive model, MMBC would not be able to put a contract on the table and say ‘take it or leave it,'” Reimer said.

A Metro staff report, however, cautions a rival agency like StewardChoice could undercut MMBC revenues and destabilize the new industry-led recycling system, which is supposed to shift the costs from taxpayers to business.

“It is important that moving to a competitive model is done in a way that creates a level playing field so as not to undermine the success of the MMBC program.”

StewardChoice development director Neil Hastie said the initial first year target is to take 8,000 tonnes of recyclables, or about five per cent of what MMBC handles.

“It’s hard to imagine why a company like ours coming in and taking five per cent of the market would destabilize a company that has 95 per cent of the market,” he said.

Hastie said StewardChoice is now finalizing its proposal to government after consultations over the summer wrapped up Sept. 12.

Still unknown is exactly where StewardChoice would operate – one of the questions Hastie aims to answer by year end.

Most multifamily buildings pay private haulers to take away recyclables as well as garbage.

StewardChoice would persuade those haulers to join its system instead of MMBC’s.

It would then pay them to collect the apartment recyclables using money from waste-generating companies that sign up as StewardChoice members.

One major hauling firm StewardChoice expects to partner with is Progressive Waste Solutions, Hastie said.

There’s been a “pretty decent response” from B.C. companies interested in becoming members, he added.

Municipalities wouldn’t get payments from StewardChoice as most do from MMBC because they don’t cover multifamily recycling costs.

But Hastie said StewardChoice may try to negotiate broader residential recycling coverage for the holdout cities in the Lower Mainland that decided against being part of MMBC’s system.

“Abbotsford, the Township of Langley and Delta are not receiving producer-funded recycling,” he said. “So we are evaluating whether or not we could provide producer funding to those communities too.”