BC’s new recycling rules threaten businesses, jobs

Jack Kuyer’s Valley Bakery dodged a bullet but he’s still fighting the proposed changes, which will also have a ‘catastrophic’ impact on newspapers

Don HaukaBURNABY, BC, Mar 23, 2014/ Troy Media/ – When master baker Jack Kuyer first saw the new recycling rules being proposed by the B.C. government, he thought it was a practical joke. But when he found out the rules were for real, he despaired for his business.

“I was ready to hand them the keys,” says Kuyer.

To understand the enormity of that statement, you need to know that Kuyer’s family-owned business is not just any ordinary bakery. The Valley Bakery is an icon – a shrine where devotees of the Danish and disciples of diverse desserts come to worship. For over half a century, it’s been dispensing delicate delights from its location on Hastings Street in Burnaby’s Heights neighbourhood.

Kuyer’s business has won Best Bakery in Burnaby for 15 years straight and shows no signs of relinquishing the title. People from all over Greater Vancouver travel kilometres for Kuyer’s cakes and cookies. The mere thought of him handing over the keys to the bakery sends shivers through thousands who are patrons of his pastries, petit fours and whipped creams.

Master baker Jack Kuyer. Whatever happened to common sense?
Master baker Jack Kuyer. Whatever happened to common sense?

What has Kuyer and thousands of other B.C. businesses up in arms is the province’s new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) recycling system, which shifts the responsibility for paying for recycling packaging and other paper products from consumers to the products’ producers. The system is supposed to launch on May 19 and will be run by Multi-Material BC (MMBC), a new stewardship agency which has a board without a single B.C. director on it. In fact, firms represented on the board of MMBC include Tim Horton’s, Walmart and Loblaws.

The new recycling regime impacts everything from pizza parlours to hardware stores. In theory, the MMBC system will reduce waste, expand curbside collection and encourage businesses to reduce the amount of packaging they use.

In practice, Kuyer says it’s a bad recycling regime that will create mountains of red tape and threaten jobs. What had him reaching for his keys was the prospect of having to design some sort of system to keep track of every cake box, pastry wrapper and dessert doily his bakery used and would have to pay to have recycled.

“I would have to go through the whole product line and try to go about determining what is and what sort of packaging we use. I could work on it solid, figuring out for about four months, eight hours a day, five days a week – it’s an enormous task. And what for? It’s ludicrous,” Kuyer said.

It’s not like the Valley Bakery is a stranger to the mantra, “reduce, reuse, recycle.” From reducing its plastic packaging to its water and energy use, Kuyer’s business is committed to being eco-friendly. It was the first firm to sign up for the city’s sustainability pledge. But none of that will matter under the new rules.

For Kuyer, it defies logic.

“I got one person in the office – me. There has to be a common sense approach to this. It’s beyond me how, when people can’t find jobs, they put in rules like this that just cost business more.”

The cost of the system will inevitably be passed on to consumers. Kuyer thinks the cost of paying for the packaging should be borne by the manufacturers who produce it, not the businesses that use it. A simple, elegant solution.

Government is not noted for simplicity or elegance. But in February, faced with mounting opposition to the new system, the government announced exemptions for businesses with a single location or taking in less than $1 million a year in revenues. Those producing less than one tonne of paper of packaging a year were also exempted from the MMBC system.

Kuyer and the Valley Bakery were lucky. His single location got them out from under the mountain of red tape that threatened to overwhelm him.

But others were not so lucky – like the B.C. newspaper industry. A new 20 cents per kilogram stewardship fee under the MMBC regime will cost a struggling industry $14 million a year. In Ontario, newspapers pay less than half a penny per kilo.

Canadian Newspaper Association chair Peter Kvarnstrom (also president of B.C. operations for Glacier Media Group) calls it “a catastrophe” for an industry that’s already facing shrinking advertising revenues. MMBC is indifferent to the industry’s appeals, treating a cornerstone of democracy as if it were no different than a used pizza box or a soiled burger wrapper.

The plight of the newspaper industry is one reason why Kuyer is still fighting the recycling regulations even though his business has dodged the recycled bullet. He’s supporting a coalition of B.C. firms that want the government to put the brakes on MMBC for another six months to address some of the issues.

The “Rethink It, BC!” Coalition includes the newspaper publishing industry as well as companies from the agriculture, retail, wholesale, food and waste collection sectors.

“Of course I support Rethink It, BC! You have to stand up and fight for some common sense,” says Kuyer.

“It’s like the government telling us they don’t want small business.”

Born and raised in B.C., Troy Media’s Eye on BC Storyteller Don Hauka has told stories for over 30 years as a reporter, author, TV writer, documentarian and communications expert.

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