Re-thinking the MMSB

Yeah, we are recycling this illustration.

With millions of dollars from recycled bottles and tires in its bank account, some people are beginning to wonder why the Multi-Materials Stewardship Board isn’t coming to the rescue of local recycling programs either unable to start or dying because of a lack of cash.

Sarah Smellie lifts the lid.

It’s not often that environmentalists and city councilors fight the same battles.

But if the independent efforts of one city councilor and one environmental activist are successful, the Multi-Materials Stewardship Board (MMSB) will be helping to foot the bill for the city’s curbside recycling program.

The MMSB is a self-financed government agency that generates cash from deposits on bottles and tires. They’ve got a present bank account balance of 11.6 million dollars. Reporting to the Minister of Environment and Conservation, they are the organization behind the glossy “Let’s Get To Half” campaign, and also oversee the Newfoundland and Labrador Waste Management Strategy, the source of all the guidelines and deadlines that every municipality in the province follows in their waste management plans.

Earlier this month, St. John’s city council announced the curb-side recycling program expected to begin in late 2009 was to be pushed back for at least one year because of a budget crunch.

For many people, the MMSB seemed like the perfect organization to hit up for some recycling cash-flow assistance.

Unfortunately, the MMSB have a track record of turning down requests like these from municipalities, offering little justification, people say, other than ‘it’s not in our mandate.’

After a number of unsuccessfulrequests, environmentalists and politicians have been questioning the MMSB’s mandate (or their effectiveness in carrying it out). As of last Monday’s council meeting, Ward 3 Councilor Keith Coombs joined the chorus.

“The MMSB have an obligation and a responsibility to assist communities and municipalities in reducing the amount of waste going into our landfills,” he says. “A curb-side recycling program is the best way to do that right now.”

At the council meeting on November 10, he moved that the city ask the MMSB to respond. Citing the size of their bank account and the city’s inability to come up with the million dollars to fund their recycling program, he suggested a letter be sent to ask them to spell out exactly what their millions are for and how they plan on dispersing them.

Shannie Duff, who sits on the Avalon Regional Waste Management Committee, isn’t holding her breath.
“The MMSB do not and will not participate in curbside recycling projects at the local level,” she tells me. “Their current policy is that they will help fund projects that are province-wide. A regional waste management authority would also be eligible for contributions from the MMSB, but the curbside recycling would be considered a local endeavour.”

“It’s just not in their mandate.”

Early this year, after losing a funding source, Ever Green Recycling approached the MMSB for help in sustaining their paper and cardboard recycling services. Paper and cardboard accounts for 37 per cent of the city’s solid waste and the MMSB heads a campaign to divert 50 percent of the province’s waste from its landfills. Naturally, when they refused to help Ever Green—and then proceeded to, some claim, shut out the media and environmental organizations asking why—uproar ensued.

Lorraine Michael and the Liberal opposition’s environment critic Roland Butler denounced the organization at the time, calling for a mandate overhaul. Butler even took it to the House of Assembly, where, during a May 29th Question Period, he challenged the MMSB’s lack of transparency and demanded to know why they weren’t contributing to municipal recycling programs.

Atlantic Coastal Action Plan member Diana Baird has been keeping her eye on the MMSB for a while now.

On the very day that Coombs railed against them in council, she was sending a letter to Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth proposing that he go to them for the cash. Attached was a provincial government’s press release with a quote from MMSB Chair and CEO John Scott stressing the importance of “ensuring that the necessary infrastructure to support convenient curbside recycling activities throughout the province is put in place to keep our province green.”

Baird says she would love to see more MMSB money headed in that direction.

“Very expensive and quite lovely education campaigns about waste diversion are not the thing to spend money on right now,” she says. “Without the infrastructure in place for people to divert half their waste, that money’s being wasted.”

“It really is time for an evaluation of how they should focus their revenue.”

Though Baird has yet to hear from Ellsworth, Coomb’s letter has been sent. He’s hoping that the pressure built up from their past spending scandals will at least force them to consider it.

“I have no idea what they’re doing with eleven and a half million in their pocket while we’re all struggling,” he says. “I’d be happy as punch if they had no money because they had spent it all on recycling programs across the province.”