Businesses get ready for arrrgh!

Businesses get ready for arrrgh!


Reducing packaging and waste is a worthy and  a noble goal, but new rules being introduced by the B.C. government to support this goal don’t pass the smell test for good public policy and are about to unleash a regulatory nightmare on small businesses.

New rules will require many businesses selling packaged goods or providing marketing and other printed materials “to assume responsibility for the cost of collecting and recycling that packaging and printed paper.”

From what we understand, many businesses will be required to track the packaging they sell (e.g. tin cans, labels, cardboard boxes, shampoo bottles, plastic wrap) and the printed materials they sell or give out (e.g. pamphlets, brochures, letters) and pay a fee in each of many materials categories (e.g. tin, paper, cardboard, plastic) according to volume.

A new government-appointed agency, Multi-Material B.C., will be setting up rules and charging fees to make this vision a reality. As an aside, giving taxing and regulating powers to such arm’s-length agencies is problematic and needs a serious rethink.

There simply isn’t enough accountability without a strong connection to an elected official.

Here at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, we have now fielded several dozen calls from confused business owners who are trying to figure out what the rules mean and whether they apply to them.

A review of the 62-page overview document and 23-page frequently-asked-questions document on Multi-Material B.C.’s website had me pretty darn confused too. So I tried the 1-800 number listed on the site. The call went to voice mail.

Underscoring the urgency around compliance is the potential for a $200,000 fine.

BC has been a leader in keeping a lid on red tape. The province’s regulatory reform policy features a Regulatory Criteria Checklist to vet proposed legislation and regulation. The checklist includes a list of common sense questions designed to stop red tape in its tracks.

So, I’m totally flummoxed. How did the new recycling rules pass the checklist? The regulatory checklist clearly says that compliance costs, including time, need to be considered and should be reasonable for small business. If the time I spent wading through these new rules is any indication, there is no way the costs will be justified. In fact, I calculate that businesses across B.C. will spend over a million hours just trying to understand the rules let alone comply with them.

Beyond that, Multi-Material B.C. has not published the fees they plan to charge or any detail on how the regulations will work. That hardly meets the checklist’s “transparent development criteria.”

Under the “simple communication” category, the checklist asks whether the change can be described in one page. If it can, I haven’t seen it yet.

The Clark government says minimizing red tape is a priority. We hope it will demonstrate how serious it is by reversing course on a policy that makes no sense. A good start would be to immediately exempt small businesses from the mountain of red tape headed their way.


Laura Jones, executive vice president, Canadian Federation of Independent Business.