Citizens taking action ~ Vancouver, Lower Mainland, and beyond.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Don't accept dumbed-down recycling

We have to cover our left flank in the battle against incineration.

With bad advice from certain consulting firms, the producers who sell us throw-away packaging are organizing to entrench inefficient recycling programs for packaging. The programs will collect everything in one messy heap and send most of it to incinerators.

Our provincial policy, on the other hand, has been to regulate producer responsibility for products one category at a time (beverages, paint, electronics, tires, etc.) rather than lump together a whole bunch of materials ("packaging") in one category creating a non-recyclable mess.

But now, because of the influence of Ontario, which has drunk the OMMRI/CIPSI/CSR koolade and is patterning its EPR system after Europe, the Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment is calling for EPR for all "packaging" like they have in Europe.

The BC ministry of environment is poised support this by bringing "packaging" in under our Recycling Regulation within the next 3 months.

This is being pitched as a plan to make producers pay the municipal cost of recycling packaging. But the real impact will be lots of "recycled" materials (if Europe is any guide) going to incinerators that pose as recycling plants.

The packaging will be sent to "MRF"s to be mechanically separated. Huge quantities of non-recyclable material will be left over after the cherry-picking. These leftovers will have no practical value except as "fuel." In the EU, producers get credit for recycling when their packaging goes to incinerators "with energy recovery."

The producers of packaged products are celebrating. The cheapest easiest way for them to get off the hook for their excess packaging is to set up a dumbed-down recycling system that minimizes sorting and doesn't hassle them to change their packaging design.

Also thrilled are the big garbage haulers who are already expanding single stream recycling in one community after another all across North America. This is a garbage hauler's dream: get paid for recycling and produce garbage (in the US, where the industry is more vertically integrated, the haulers profit at every stage).

Here in the Lower Mainland, the Surrey Metro Materials MRF is likely being set up to process all the garbage that comes back from the new packaging "recycling" program ("Thanks, Marvin!"). Covanta and the other incinerator companies are rubbing their hands in anticipation of what comes out the MRF's back door. It's part of Metro's plan. The Municipal Industrial Complex shaping our public policy and our children's options.

ACTION:Please write a letter to Penner.

Ask his ministry to:

  • issue an Intentions Paper on Packaging EPR

  • ask him to explain why we should change from our successful one product-category at a time approach to an approach that will mix all kinds of packaging together in the regulation, making it harder to establish accountability and less likely to foster innovation by producers

  • why not instead pass regulations that target the known "low hanging fruit" in packaging?

  • how about EPR for dairy containers (milk, yogurt, etc.)? or those bulky household detergents jugs & cartons? How about amending the section on consumer electronics to include packaging?

The theory is if they have to take back all that styrofoam, to say nothing of those awful clamshells for software, the industry will probably stop using them.

BOTTOM LINE: our cities and the garbage industry have to get out of the business of chasing after bottles and cans other bulky, low value packaging

It costs us a lot of money to collect containers, and yet it contributes very little to actual diversion - because containers don't actually add up to that much waste despite their bulkiness and annoyingness.

Let our cities get busy instead collecting organics/food waste -- and keep on collecting newspapers (Blue Bag) and mixed papers (Yellow Bag). Think about it: these are easy to understand, easy to collect in our city trucks. They have established markets right here in BC.

And lets go after the producers of products that come in easy-to-recycle packaging. Make them set up a system for doing that, instead of taking a free ride in the Blue Box. They'll figure out how to do it.

Over time, all that will be left in the garbage is those annoying blister packs that can't be recycled. When the easy-to-recycle low hanging fruit is not in the garbage any more, you will be able to see who's causing all the trouble. No brand-owner wants to see its brand on garbage!

Here's Penner's email: "Barry Penner, Minister"

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