By Michael Jessen
Premier Gordon Campbell's recent tax cuts to businesses and individuals drew BC closer to Alberta on income tax rates. But the two provinces are still far apart when it comes to a number of other issues, including one that is of particular interest to environmentally conscious consumers -- milk container recycling.
And if the BC Dairy Council (BCDC) has its way, that gulf could ironically mean higher taxes pouring out of the pockets of BC residents.
Unlike all other beverage containers, jugs and cartons of milk and milk substitutes are exempt from the province's deposit-refund legislation, despite the fact BC's Beverage Container Board unanimously recommended they be included in 1998.
While the Alberta Dairy Council (ADC) also got an exemption from that province's deposit-refund system, it was contingent on a commitment by the dairy industry to come up with a recycling program that got results. The government told the ADC it had to include the mostly paper gable-top cartons and achieve a 55% diversion rate by year three.
As a recent visitor to Alberta noticed, the ADC has launched a milk container recovery program that includes a transportation subsidy for community recycling programs. The Alberta Plastic Milk Jug Recycling Program is an industry stewardship initiative through which Alberta's dairy industry supports the voluntary collection and recycling of High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) plastic milk jugs. Under the initiative, the Alberta Dairy Council established an HDPE Container Recovery Fund to provide 'top-up' support payments to registered municipalities or their recycling designate to supplement the revenues they receive for densified HDPE containers.
The ADC has also produced a compact disk with a milk jug recycling song that has been sent to all schools in the province to encourage children to recycle milk jugs clean, compacted, and capless. The ADC even collects the lids separately in a "Milk for Kids" program. A milk jug recycling door hanger campaign was launched earlier this year and reached over 480,000 households. A milk container roundup day is planned for October 20 in cooperation with the 4-H Foundation. The ADC also operates the www.milkjugrecycling.com website, has an office, a telephone number, and a program coordinator. It has just started rolling out its gable top milk carton campaign and will determine 'top-up' support payments in consultation with existing municipal recyclers.
The vision of the ADC's program is to operate the most effective and efficient program in Canada for recycling plastic milk jugs. It is still playing catch-up to one of the country's most eastern provinces.
Nova Scotia was the only province or territory in Canada to achieve the national goal of 50 percent waste reduction by the end of 2000. There, the Atlantic Dairy Council agreed in February 2000 to make financial contributions to recyclers to offset the cost of managing milk packaging, including gable top cartons. While milk packaging is excluded from the provincial deposit system, the Atlantic Dairy Council has agreed to place side panel advertisements related to waste diversion on all two-litre milk cartons for a minimum of 2 to 3 cycles per year.
In BC, the BCDC is starting a pilot program next week to collect milk containers in the Abbotsford-Mission area. It will be a one-year study to gauge the best way to launch a provincial collection program, according to BCDC past-president Anton Donkers. (The BCDC has no office, no telephone number, no coordinator, and no website.)
"What do we need a pilot program for, that's just the industry stalling again," says Raymond Gaudart, Resource Recovery Coordinator for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary from his Trail office. "It seems the BC dairy industry doesn't want to embrace producer responsibility."
Gaudart says industry in BC is responsible for take-back programs like car tires, car batteries, paint, solvents, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, as well as pop, juice and beer containers.
"The deposit-refund system has proven to be best for recovering a high volume of beverage containers," said Gaudart.
If milk containers are not collected through an industry stewardardship program, the cost of collection is borne by taxpayer-funded local recycling programs, adds Gaudart.
The RDKB passed a resolution last February to have milk containers included under the deposit-refund system and it was approved by the Association of Kootenay and Boundary Municipalities. A similar resolution was later endorsed by the Capital Regional District (CRD) in Victoria that stated adding milk containers to the system would "reduce recycling program costs" and "provide consistency whereby all ready-to-drink containers would be subject to beverage container regulation." The resolution will be voted on at this week's Union of BC Municipalities meeting in Vancouver.
With more than 65 million milk jugs sold in BC every year and only 60% of them currently recovered in voluntary recycling programs, Ann Johnston has had enough.
Two months ago, Johnston started gathering signatures on a province-wide petition to have all milk and milk substitute containers included under the deposit-refund program. The petition is being distributed through the Return-It depots operated by Encorp Pacific.
"About 1,800 tonnes of milk jugs and untold tonnes of milk cartons are landfilled every year at taxpayers' expense," says Johnston. This in spite of the fact there are industries in BC like Merlin Plastics, Norampac, and Greencoast that can recycle the plastic jug, gable-top milk carton, and 'drink-box' containers, she adds.
Johnston, coordinator of the Southern Gulf Islands Recycling Coalition and a member of BC's Beverage Container Management Board since 1997, says the BCDC pressured the provincial government to exempt it from the deposit program.
Donkers says the BCDC is opposed to deposits on milk containers and prefers to see them collected in multi-material recycling programs. "We're disappointed in the petition, especially since it was started by a member of the Beverage Container Management Board who knows what we've been planning."
For Johnston, the BCDC's efforts just aren't good enough.
"Since October 1998 we all have been asking continually why milk was exempted," says Johnston. "There was no acceptable explanation then, nor is there one today."
ONE SMALL STEP - If you haven't yet signed the petition to have all milk and milk substitute containers included under the deposit-refund system, copies of the petition are available at most Return It! depots in the province. In the West Kootenay area, you'll find it at the Glasstop Bottle Depot on Rossland Avenue in Trail, the Nelson Jr. A Leafs Bottle Depot on Front Street in Nelson, Tee Jay's Bottle Depot in Castlegar, and the Town and Country Bottle Depot on Highway 3 in Salmo.
RESOURCES - The following web sites give information on Alberta's recycling programs: Alberta Plastics Recycling Association at www.plasticsrecycling.ab.ca, Recycling Council of Alberta at www.recycle.ab.ca, and Alberta Environment at www.gov.ab.ca/env/waste/aow. The Nova Scotia Milk Packaging Stewardship Agreement is accessible at www.gov.ns.ca/envi/wasteman/dairy.pdf.
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