BRITISH COLUMBIA â€” Last month, Minister of Environment Mary Polak announced what seemed like good news: small businesses would be "exempted" from the province’s onerous new packaging and printed paper regulation coming into force this May. Unfortunately, it looks like the real news for small business isn’t quite so good – many are not actually exempted and some will not survive.
The new recycling policy fundamentally changes the current blue box program. Instead of being run by local municipalities, the B.C. government has given control over the blue box program to an unelected body called Multi Material BC, governed by multinational corporations out of Toronto. If this has you scratching your head and wondering what was wrong with the existing blue box program, you are not alone.
Opposition to Polak’s plan is growing. Last week, a coalition of B.C.-based businesses representing agriculture, newspapers, landscaping, manufacturing, retail, wholesale, food, and waste collection sectors held a press conference to announce a #RethinkItBC campaign to fight the new rules. If small businesses really were "exempt" why would so many of them band together against this new policy? Minister Polak did put in place some compliance thresholds around gross revenue, packaging volumes and number of locations. The problem with her approach is that the thresholds are too low and in some cases don’t apply at all. The bottom line is that too many small businesses are still being hurt by a policy that adds a lot of cost and bureaucracy for no environmental benefit.
For example, under the new rules franchises are not exempt. Several pizza franchisees have reported to us they will be paying between $200 and $400 a week in taxes to MMBC. Pizza joints don’t have fat margins and paying for this might mean selling another 100 pizzas a week – or passing those costs on to customers.
Some small businesses are being bullied into compliance by big corporations. Several major grocery stores have sent letters to suppliers saying they will only do business with firms that are MMBC compliant regardless of whether they fall under Polak’s exemption. One went as far threatening to withhold partial payment as a fine for lack of MMBC compliance. These same supermarkets will not accept any price increases associated with compliance – small business has to eat the cost.
In small towns, community newspapers and local recycling depots are at risk of going out of business thanks to the new policy. B.C’s newspaper industry is facing $14 million of additional taxes. They will be paying 4,762 per cent (that’s not a typo) more per kilogram of waste than the equivalent program in Ontario. How many job losses that translates into has yet to be seen. That it is at odds with the government’s stated "strong economy, secure tomorrow" agenda is crystal clear.
The only good news in this mess is that it is never too late to reverse course on bad policy. Premier Christy Clark has shown she has the courage to admit mistakes and change course where necessary. It’s necessary now. The new recycling rules don’t work for small business or the communities they support.