Curbside recycling is almost guaranteed to begin in the city of Prince George next spring, but what it will look like is still up in the air.
Local governments already offering curbside waste pickup have until Sept. 16 to decide whether they want to be a contractor to the group responsible for spearheading the province-wide recycling program.
Multi Material BC (MMBC) managing director Allen Langdon addressed the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George board of directors Thursday afternoon. MMBC is the lead agency representing a variety of producers of packaging and printed paper products (PPP) who are now going to be held accountable for the collections, processing and marketing of recyclable materials from residences as of May 19, 2014.
The regional district's four member municipalities are all eligible for a first right of refusal to be the ones to collect the materials and receive a variety of financial incentives from MMBC to help offset the costs of delivering a resident education program and administrative resources to answer the inevitable questions about how the system works.
But the threat of heavy penalties if contamination levels are too high and the level of uncertainty over the post-collection processors didn't sit well with the directors.
"It's unfortunate," said Valemount mayor Andru McCracken, who noted he saw "glaring openings" in the plan, especially as it relates to how far the village would have to travel to the processor. "I think the Village of Valemount could be a great partner with MMBC, but the vagaries of the process aren't super conducive to that."
Cameron Stolz, chair of the regional district's standing committee on curbside recycling recommendations, raised concerns over the $5,000 per load penalty written in to the contract if there is more than three per cent of the material that isn't PPP.
"Where the challenge comes is that established communities that have long-standing recycling programs - Metro Vancouver, Kamloops - are in the five to seven per cent contamination rate," said Stolz.
Langdon said that, although it's not explicitly worded, the provision is a last resort to deal with problem contractors who are not making an effort to comply with regulations after a reasonable amount of time.
"We understand in early days we may not meet that right away," he said.
Langdon also noted a future version of the contract could include language that points to the organization operating within "normal business relations," but MMBC's legal advice doesn't support removing the penalty as a dispute resolution tool.
Coming from a legal background, Dave Wilbur said a contract is binding and that Langdon's assurances that it would be a last-resort tool weren't "worth the paper they're not written on."
"If you're really serious about checking in with local government and asking them to sign a contract which has... very punitive penalties, then the assurance and the 'trust us' kind of approach is not good enough," he said.
If the local governments don't choose to accept the incentives and run curbside collection themselves, MMBC would set up a request for proposal to find a private contractor to operate the service.
"We may issue an RFP but we may not issue a curbside service," said Langdon. "We may look to another type of delivery, depending on the responses we receive."
Stolz said that alternative method could be a more expanded depot system, but he didn't get the impression that it would be an option for Prince George.
"From the presentation [Langdon] made, because of the size of our community, that wouldn't be practical for MMBC to provide because they'll end up with an even higher contamination rate than if they go with a curbside collection," he said.
Each member municipality as well as the regional district will have to make their decision soon. Stolz said he expects to see a report come before Prince George council by the Sept. 9 meeting.
Requests for an extension of the Sept. 16 deadline were not entertained, as Langdon said there were still other pieces of the pie that have to be in place to meet to May 2014 deadline. These include identifying which communities are taking part, issuing RFPs and determining post-collection processors.
McBride mayor Mike Frazier said that from a small-municipality perspective, there isn't enough information to come to any conclusion.
"We saw this as a break-even proposal, at best," he said, adding that he thinks his council may choose to decline the incentives and let MMBC handle the process.
Among the benefits of the new program Langdon identified were that MMBC would assume the risks associated with fluctuating commodity prices and demand and that municipalities wouldn't shoulder the financial and administrative burden of arranging and paying for PPP processing.