Honourable George Heyman
Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy
PO Box 9047 Stn Prov Gov
Victoria, BC V8W 9E2 via email: ENV.Minister@gov.bc.ca
May 17, 2022
Dear Honourable George Heyman,
Re: Recycling Regulations – Packaging and paper products – Newspapers
My name is Brian Gibson and I am the President of Unifor Local 2000. Our Local represents workers across BC at various newspapers, print shops, television and radio stations as well as workers at Purdy’s Chocolatier.
I write to you today to implore you to reexamine the Government’s stand on newspapers as packaging under current BC Recycling Regulations. Especially in light of the recent decision in Ontario to exempt newspapers from their regulations.
Across the world, municipalities and provinces have been moving their recycling programmes to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). EPR is great in theory and in practice. It levies fees on manufacturers and retailers for the packaging that wraps everything from the food we eat to the toys our kids play with. Any parent who has helped their child open a new toy knows that between the thick plastic that practically takes garden shears to open, the twist ties, and the cardboard, there is still way too much wasteful packaging associated with so many products.
EPR has one laudable objective: Reduce packaging in the waste/recycling stream. It does so by shifting the burden of recycling costs from taxpayers to producers. When producers must pay these fees, they innovate and find ways to wrap their products in far less packaging.
Since the advent of the Blue Box, newspapers have had the highest level of collection of all recyclable materials – more than plastics and even more than aluminum. Newspapers continue to be a valuable recovered resource in the recycling stream. They have a stable end market and high commercial value. And recycling newspapers saves trees. They are also completely compostable unlike packaging in many other products.
Newspapers have always been a public good – The dissemination of news to the public is a necessary element of a vibrant and healthy democracy and a well-functioning society. Fake news – around COVID-19, elections, and many other issues – has highlighted the importance and value of credible news provided by trusted media sources. Newspapers allow the reader to pause, engage, and reflect – providing an important service that is not met through other media.
So, what does any of this have to do with extended producer responsibility?
Until recently in Ontario, the EPR program in most provinces of Canada has treated newspapers the same as waste packaging. Unlike product packaging, the newspaper is the product. Publishers at the papers where my members work have moved to thinner paper to lower their footprint. Driving up the cost of newspaper production with EPR fees drives down the content as newspapers are forced to cut pages and, therefore, value to their readers. The knock-on effects are a loss of jobs, many of which are unionized, in a sector that is already facing many external challenges, and a less informed citizenry.
Across Canada, newspapers face a patchwork of provincial regulations, administrative regimes, and fees. The levies charged are based on opaque formulas often devised by monopolies controlled by waste haulers, retailers, and consumer packaged goods companies. In British Columbia, for example, the levy on newsprint went up by 80 per cent in a single year, while the levy on plastics remained flat. That’s simply not fair.
We cannot have a misguided system that puts newspapers at risk at a time when the public needs trusted sources of information more than ever before. The unintended consequences of EPR on newspapers are to reduce the number of pages in a newspaper or for the paper to simply close. This has a detrimental effect on readers, advertisers and society at large across Canada.
Recently, the Ontario government issued a regulation that will exempt newspapers from EPR levies in the province. My Local Union along with publishers throughout BC applaud this change, and we hope that BC will follow Ontario’s lead. I hope that yourself and the Honourable Premier John Horgan will exempt newspapers as you currently work through changes to the program here in BC.
To its considerable credit, the federal government has taken meaningful steps to support local journalism across Canada. Provincial and municipal governments should not undo that with punitive fees that are based on the flawed premise that newspapers are unnecessary and wasteful packaging.
On behalf of my members who work at various newspapers throughout BC, I ask that you consider an exemption for newspapers under BC Recycling Regulations similar to what Ontario has recently done. This would go a long way to saving local news and those records of voice in small communities throughout British Columbia. It would also help to preserve or even add to jobs at newspapers throughout our Province. Most importantly it would allow newspapers to continue to carry out the important function of informing the citizenry and preserving our democracy.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, please feel free to contact me.