VANCOUVER - Recycling costs and pickup of material at curbsides across British Columbia is expected to be among the hottest topics at a gathering of local government leaders in Vancouver.
Many municipalities have refused to sign a contract with a new agency called Multi-Materials BC, which aims to control collection of recycled paper and packaging by May 2014, as mandated by the provincial government.
The deadline to ink the deal is Monday, the first day of the week-long Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention, where about 2,000 delegates from 196 communities will meet.
On Friday, Multi-Materials BC said local governments that do not sign on by Monday will not be eligible to participate in the recycling program when it is launched, although they can continue discussions for future involvement.
The agreement offers municipalities three options — run their own curbside collection of packaging and printed paper as contractors for a financial incentive, give that responsibility to the agency, or continue their own blue box program without any compensation.
The goal is to shift recycling costs from taxpayers to industry, which is the group of retailers and producers that makes up Multi-Materials BC as part of a program that will require consumers to pay an added recycling cost when they buy a product.
Mayor Malcolm Brodie of Richmond said his city won't sign the "draconian" contract, which doesn't offer a partnership approach.
Brodie said that as far as he's aware, only Coquitlam has signed the deal with Multi-Materials BC while other cities in the Lower Mainland have shunned it.
"We've got half the population of the province," he said of the region, adding the program as a whole is a good one because it would expand the list of recyclable items and provide curbside recycling in areas where it currently does not exist.
Multi-Materials BC said Friday that municipalities representing two-thirds of households in the province have signed the deal, although the agency did not provide the number of governments that will be eligible to participate in the program.
Brodie said the current contract must be amended because it gives too much power to Multi-Materials BC to change an agreement, leaving cities without much say.
"We think that we're currently getting a good service but we do think the concept of MMBC is an improvement. But it's got to be done in a way that works for everybody, including the cities, and the current situation does not."
Municipal taxpayers pay a yearly household levy for blue-box service, and the material collected is sold to recyclers. One of the options of the deal is for the agency to sell recyclables and return part of the money to cities, Brodie said.
Vancouver city council has said it will opt to continue its own recycling program but will not yet sign the agreement, adding it suggests the agency will have an incentive to pick up as much recyclable material as possible while the city has implemented targets to reduce waste.
Brodie said keeping his city's current program would mean a double charge for consumers who would pay an extra cost for a newspaper, for example, and also be charged a recycling tax by their municipality.
"The amount may not be that huge but I think you should have one or the other. The program to me makes sense but the implementation is not satisfactory.
"We will carry on with the status quo for the time being and it is my hope that there will be more discussions with MMBC that will resolve the issues that are so contentious."
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts also said her city will not sign the current deal, which she said favours the "dictatorial" provincial agency when it comes to compensating local governments.
"There has to be some change in language. Otherwise, it would not be in the city's best interest."
Selina Robinson, the NDP's local government critic, said Multi-Materials BC has said it will charge municipalities a fine of $5,000 for every truckload of material that exceeds a contamination rate of three per cent — "if aluminum foil is mixed in with your plastic, or whatever.
"Yes, we ought to get down to zero contamination and we ought to train people to do better, but to start with fines, that's just unbelievable."
Community Minister Coralee Oakes said delegates at the convention will also be discussing major changes in upcoming legislation, allowing for more financial disclosure and accountability in local government elections.
"It's the most significant change in election regulation in two decades," she said. "We really do think that this is our opportunity to make local government more accessible for people, more transparent."
Oakes said municipal elections will be moved to October, from November, next year.