British Columbia·Exclusive

'Freeriding' B.C. newspapers costing recycling program millions

The province is warning B.C.'s major newspapers they need to get in line, after they failed to contribute an estimated $16 million in fees to the province's new recycling program.

Sun and Province publisher disputes claim, saying industry not only meets recycling targets but exceeds them

The Ministry of Environment has sent a notice to some of B.C.'s major newspapers demanding their compliance with new recycling regulations. (Shutterstock)

The province is warning B.C.'s major newspapers to get in line, after they failed to contribute an estimated $16 million in fees to the province's new recycling program.

Documents obtained by CBC News show three publishers representing The Vancouver Sun and The Province and two community newspaper groups — Black Press and Glacier Media — all received warning letters from the Ministry of Environment late last year, demanding they comply with B.C.'s new regulations.

The rules, which came into effect, May 19, 2014, require the producers of all packaging and printed paper (PPP) in B.C. to pay for the cost of recycling the products they sell consumers.

The aim of the program is to shift the cost from taxpayers to producers. Similar programs are also in effect in four other provinces.

The rules give producers two options: join the umbrella organization called Multi Material B.C. and pay an annual fee or set up their own collection and recycling system.

Two options, none taken

As the warning letters dated Nov. 27, 2015 note, the three publishers in question appear to have done neither.

"Please advise this office immediately how you intend to meet your obligations," says the letter to Gordon Fisher, the president of the Vancouver Sun and The Province, provided to the CBC News by the ministry.

"The ministry is aware that this information is not new to your company and requires a timely response," says a similar letter to Jonathan Kennedy, the president of Glacier Media, which publishes about 20 weekly community newspapers in B.C.

"The ministry understands that you are working on developing various alternatives for newspaper recycling in B.C. Please provide an update on any developments regarding this work," said another nearly identical letter sent to Rick O'Connor, the president of Black Press, which publishes about 80 weekly community newspapers in B.C.

The publishers of the Vancouver Sun and Province and two major B.C. community newspaper chains have been issued B.C. Ministry of Environment letters of compliance. (CBC)

Crackdown on 'freeriding' producers

A statement released by the Ministry of Environment said the province was working to enforce the rules.

"This issue remains a priority to resolve, as the province fully appreciates the key role the newspaper publishers have in the PPP program."

The statement noted that so far the ministry has been able to bring about 150 producers in line with the new rules.

"Since ... May 2014, the ministry has undertaken one of the largest and most successful compliance and enforcement efforts on 'freeriding' producers in recent ministry history."

Industry responds to concerns

CBC News requested an interview with all three publishers.

Gordon Fisher, the publisher of The Vancouver Sun and Province says the newspaper industry not only meets the recycling targets in British Columbia, "it exceeds them."

"We have been leaders in this matter for years," said Fisher, who disputed claims that newspapers in B.C. were not contributing to MMBC,  which he called "a monopoly body with unregulated taxation powers."

"We send millions to that body every year," said Fisher.

Black Press replied that their president was travelling and unavailable. Glacier Media did not respond for a request for an interview.

No contributions

Despite Fisher's statement, Allen Langdon, the managing director of Multi Material B.C. says the newspapers are not contributing to the recycling program.

And Langdon says he is unaware of any efforts by the newspapers to set up their own recycling system or contribute any cash to the MMBC program.

"I have no information from the newspaper industry," says Langdon. "They are not contributing any money."

According to Langdon, in the two years since the regulations came into effect, B.C.'s newspapers should have contributed $16 million to the program, since they are not running one of their own.

Meanwhile MMBC is still recycling the newspapers, and that cost is covered by the 1,305 companies that are paying their fees, he notes.

Rolls of newsprint await shipping at a B.C. pulp and paper mill. (Catalyst Paper Corp.)

Costs passed on to consumers

Another important consequence of the newspapers not contributing, is that communities like Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Mission, Kamloops and Comox that want to join the MMBC program can't because of the revenue shortfall.

"We can't bring them into our program because there are still producers out there that have not meet their obligations," says Langdon.

The major newspapers' lack of participation in a recycling program is costing taxpayers money according to the mayors of smaller municipalities which can't join the program until the larger papers pay up and help fund the system. (CBC)

Comox Mayor Paul Ives says he and other mayors met with the Environment Ministry about the problem as recently as February, but at this point nothing has been resolved.

"We were told that there was not enough capacity within the MMBC system to take us on," said Ives.

And that's costing taxpayers in his community, who have to foot the bill for recycling in his community, both when they buy products and when they pay their municipal fees, he says.

"Essentially our residents are paying twice," says Ives, "And they are not getting the benefit of that system that MMBC is providing."

The cost to each household is about $18 a year, he estimates. 

But what's particularly galling, says Ives, is that advertisers that put flyers in the weekly newspapers are paying their fees, but newspapers that get revenue from the flyers are not.

"Whoever put the flyer in there, they are paying for those costs ... but the newspaper industry is not bucking up for their share," he says.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Gordon Fisher, the publisher of The Vancouver Sun and The Province, did not respond to a request for an interview. In fact he did respond by email on Sunday. We regret the error. The story has been updated to include his reaction to the story on Tuesday.
    Apr 19, 2016 11:08 AM PT

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