Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Letter to Nanaimo City Council re: decision to not fund the NRE


You will undoubtedly know that I am unhappy with your decision to not fund the Nanaimo Recycling
Exchange’s new facility. I understand that your legal counsel advised you that you cannot donate money to a non-profit entity that is competing with for-profit companies, and that if you could donate it would require a plebiscite. I can fully appreciate your desire to save the taxpayer’s money. You wish to be both responsible and legal. This is good and right.
What I wish to now bring to your attention are the premises (assumptions) that appear to have led to your decision. I believe these premises have no basis in fact; hence (if I am correct) your decision is not the result of legal counsel nor is it the most responsible one. I will outline what I believe are your incorrect premises here and provide more detail later on. I appreciate that you are given a lot of reading to do.
Premise #1: The other recyclers are accomplishing what the NRE had been doing.
Even if they knew how to handle the hard-to-recycle materials and were as committed to being the kind of stewards the NRE was they do not have a re-store on any of their sites. They are called depots. The NRE was called an exchange. They are not the same thing. They have not inspired us as has the NRE. They are not accountable to the public as was the NRE. They are not a true one-stop centre as was the NRE. They are not the same thing.
Premise #2 The for-profit depot’s are altruistic, seeking to “serve” the public.
I admire how slick their PR campaign has been. Some real money was put into this, and by someone who knew what they were doing. They did what they could to prevent the NRE to become a Zero Waste Centre and then acted as though they were our saviour when the NRE (after years of warning us) finally closed. Not only are they now very happy to see their profits increase they are now also asking the RDN for the funds promised to the NRE. But without any guarantees or track record in dealing with the hard-to-recycle materials. Sadly Council swallowed their Cool-Aid.
Premise #3 Not funding the NRE will save the taxpayers “more than $6 million.”
Yep, as long as you are okay with having our landfill fill up more quickly, costing us far more to build an incinerator. Some savings! I have already told you that the Nanaimo Recycling Depot and the later NRE both helped us to stave off having an incinerator built in Nanaimo. I can also tell you that the incinerator lobbyists are very pleased with your decision. Perhaps you have forgotten that incinerators cost four times that of dumps or recycling. Oh, except that you have believed the generalised promises of the consortium, the companies who are not accountable to the public. More Cool-Aid.
Premise #4 Funding this non-profit is no different than is funding other non-profits.
What other non-profit did such an amazing job helping our region manage solid wastes? Encorp only supports companies that can turn a profit and do not handle nearly as many materials as did the NRE, nor do they have re-stores attached to them. No other non-profit does anything close to what the NRE did. No other non-profit was featured so prominently on the city’s website. Essentially the City of Nanaimo and the NRE had a long-standing relationship that greatly benefited the City and the Region. Please name another non-profit that was so helpful to us all in regards to solid waste management.
Hence I believe the justification for denying the NRE’s funding is faulty. I want to end, though, by noting a human characteristic that is especially problematic in marriages. If one spouse does most of the pursuing in the marriage that marriage will be in trouble. What’s the point here? Because, very sadly, the NRE did all of the pursuing. The City and the RDN essentially failed to appreciate the gift the NRE was, and could be, to our community. Contrast this to the City of Vancouver’s shiny new Zero Waste Centre. The city paid for this less comprehensive centre, despite the existence of many for-profit recyclers. Now imagine if the City of Nanaimo and the RDN were to approach the lowest cost operator on Vancouver Island, called the NRE, and said “we will build the facility and you operate it.” If these governments had pursued the NRE, rather than the other way around, and each had appreciated the other, then we could have had a Zero Waste centre that outshone Vancouver’s.
But, wait, this could still happen! The NRE owns a rare centrally located ideally zoned property. The NRE has gone through considerable expense in drawing up a world-class Zero Waste Centre. The city could take over both at a savings. Perhaps you could be inspired by how Nanaimo was once western Canada’s leader in zero waste. You could put Nanaimo back on the map! Unlike the PR-driven promises of the consortium we know that this is doable!
I agree: you need to be both legal and responsible. I believe you have justified your decision, not proven yourselves to be responsible (fiscally or socially). But you could be visionary, responsible and responsive to the wishes of the community, to get serious about the city’s goal for authentic Zero Waste –reusing, repairing, repurposing and, yes, recycling then you will add roughly $10/year to our taxes and build this Centre. The NRE has stopped pursuing the City. Now it is your turn to approach it. Very soon.
Sincerely,


More details about the four premises:
Premise #1: The other recyclers are accomplishing what the NRE had been doing.
I do not believe even they ever made this statement, only that they promised that they would do this (without ever giving us any details about how they would accomplish it). Nevertheless, let’s consider how truthful this statement is.
  1.   While they do accept most of the materials that had been received by the NRE this is not the same thing as actually recycling (which means not burning, not burying) those materials. It is safe to say that only the materials for which they receive a public subsidy (through the Eco-fee program) or for which they can earn income (such as for metals) are actually recycled. Just this last week a customer visiting Alpine was told that they “throw out” foam insulating materials given to them. (The RDN has now been notified of this since they listed Alpine as “accepting” such materials.) These materials quickly fill landfills but do not weigh much –hence the NRE was not given much credit for extending the life of our landfill. It alone truly recycled this, and many other, materials.
  2.  In addition to materials such as Styrofoam only the NRE knew how to recycle the hard-to-recycle materials such as crinkly plastics. Only the NRE actually recycled these materials. Only the NRE subsidised the actual recycling of these materials, costing them funds that would have otherwise built their new facility. No for-profit recycling company is going to reduce their income to properly recycle such materials. In fact the consortium has already begun to ask the RDN for the monies promised to the NRE!  Question: what is currently happening to these materials? Are they being sent to our landfill or to a landfill and incinerator in Washington State? I doubt any of us know, but the answer is most certainly ‘yes.’ These materials are not being recycled. So in truth the consortium cannot do what the NRE was doing without government assistance.
  3.   Only the NRE was truly a one-stop solid waste management centre. I know that Regional Recycling markets itself as being a “one-stop” depot. Even they do not claim to be doing all that the NRE was doing. Thus I conclude that they are engaged in false advertising. Far more trips are now being made by faithful residents and businesses to only partly fulfill what the authentic one-stop NRE centre used to facilitate. Many trips that would have been taken to the NRE are now going to the regional landfill, with roughly 55% of what is being dumped there by residents and businesses composed of recoverable materials.
  4.   Only the NRE had a re-sell store, which is why it was not called a “depot” (as are the others) but an “exchange.” It did not merely “recycle” materials. In the hierarchy of waste management, adopted by both the Regional District of Nanaimo and the City of Nanaimo, putting materials back into use is far superior to recycling those materials.  The NRE added far more value to waste materials than do the depots. Only the NRE did both, all in one very central location. On this point alone the argument fails that the for-profit recyclers were substantially doing the same thing as was the NRE.
  5.   People are resources. Only the NRE offered actual on-the-site job retraining to those who were hard to employ. How many people did it help keep off of the streets and away from addictions? How many people-resources are, like many materials, now being wasted?
Conclusion: the NRE was not the same operation as are the recycling depots. Only the depots made this claim, and obviously without merit.
Premise #2 The for-profit depot’s are altruistic, seeking to “serve” the public.
I give the consortium a great deal of credit for crafting a very clever PR campaign. They framed the “sudden” closure of the NRE as being an urgent situation in which they would be happy to fill in the needed services –especially if the local governments would pay them to do so. (See their correspondence with the RDN shortly after the NRE closed: https://pub-nanaimo.escribemeetings.com/FileStream.ashx?DocumentId=2585). The very consortium that did what it could to convince local governments not to fund the NRE in order that it could make more money now made itself sound like the saviour of the city by “picking up the slack.” (The closure, by the way, was not “sudden,” as they falsely claimed. The NRE repeatedly warned the city for several years it would have to do so unless a new facility was funded. It finally ran out of extensions on the leased property. The only people who were surprised that they closed must not have been paying attention. This, apparently, included at least one councillor.)
The consortium continues its saviour complex in the correspondence cited above when it writes,  "The recycling of packaging, electronics, beverage container, paint, oil and several other materials is now managed and paid for by industry not local governments." Ultimately it is the consumer who pays the eco fees and higher prices for products. In the case of pop cans the industry refunds our deposits. This is not the same thing as “paying” us. One significant difference between the NRE and the depots is that far more of the funds received by the NRE actually went to recycling the materials than is true of the eco-fee system. A great deal of our funds and that of producers are retained by Encorp, paid to its very highly paid directors and others, not to the depots who are actually doing the work. (Consequently the former NRE employees are being paid less by the for-profit depots for doing the same work.) I am shocked, for example, to have recently learned that none of the eco fees for large appliances make it to depots or actual recyclers. Another controversy: funds remain with Encorp regardless of whether cans are taken to a qualified depot or not. Yet the consortium’s correspondence boasts that it was the NRE who would not give “full value” for the funds they might receive! Another quote from this correspondence: “As they no longer provide a service I assume that government funding has been stopped. In the interim will you be spreading that funding for a period of time to private depots that are willing and able to accept those materials?” The NRE did not receive funds for the hard-to-recycle materials; they paid for these through their own operations! Hence we begin to see another ulterior motive for their campaign against NRE: they want our money. But the PR campaign words this request for funds as needed to ‘saving’ us, and does so without making any promise to actually recycle the materials for which they would like to be paid. They promise only to “receive” those materials. Would they know what to do with these materials? Only Jan Hastings of the NRE did. Did we ever learn how they would be accountable to us, the public, in exchange for our trust? I never saw a business plan or plans of any kind. We are supposed to believe that they have our best interests in mind. In truth, unlike the NRE, they have zero accountability to us. This is the stuff of public relations campaigns. The gimmick works: Hint at the value but make no tangible or measurable promises.
Notice in their correspondence that they equate their depots with the full-service, authentically one-stop, recycling and reselling exchange that was the NRE. I have shown above how this assumption is shown to be false.
Conclusion: Their slick PR campaign was a magician’s trick to convince us that they were the equivalent to the NRE, and that helping themselves is seen as helping us.
Premise #3 Not funding the NRE will save the taxpayers “more than $6 million.”
This is certainly true if it’s acceptable to you that more materials are now being buried or burned. No sooner had the NRE closed then the very same consortium began to ask for money from the RDN. Can they possibly be as efficient as was the NRE without volunteer labour (even if they knew how to recycle these materials)?  Let’s consider the bigger picture: without the NRE educating and inspiring us how to recycle, reuse and repair (far more than the for-profits do) and because the for-profits depend on monies provided by the public and the producers for the vast majority of their operations, how much will we really save? It is most certainly the case that the landfill is now filling up more quickly. Many trips are being taken to that big “one-stop” place (the landfill) that until recently went to the NRE. So I ask you: How much does it cost to replace a landfill? Landfills are now being replaced by incinerators. Incinerators (now called “Waste to Energy”) cost governments four TIMES the amount it does to dump and recycle, and provide a fraction of the number of jobs, and pollute, and add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Even without considering the net loss of jobs from what the new NRE (the Nanaimo Zero Waste centre) would have created it is guaranteed that today’s savings will pale in comparison to the future costs as a result of your decision. I ask: are you being responsible?
Premise #4 Funding this non-profit is no different than is funding other non-profits.
This is the argument given by some non-profits, perhaps fearing that if the city funded the NRE this might reduce the amount they would receive and/or (perhaps to be fair) they should receive as much as would the NRE.
I would like to ask what other non-profit in Nanaimo was a world-leader in diverting post-consumer materials, an entity that led the movement to avoid a far more costly incinerator, an organisation that inspired us to better utilise the other facilities (including curb-side pickup)? I am an Executive Director of a non-profit counselling agency. My agency has helped to save thousands of people in Nanaimo from poorly functioning lives and relationships, do better in work, and even save some from untimely deaths. To date the city has not funded us (though we have asked!). I am proud of what we have done on very little income. In this regard Island Integrated Counselling is similar to the NRE. Perhaps both organisations saved some lives. Certainly both organisations have contributed a great deal to the community. But in no other way are the two organisations the same. For a quarter of a century the NRE formed an integral part of the city’s effort to divert waste resources, saving us all money in the process. Its presence on the city’s website was a prominent one. It alone handled resources at one site that no other facility took care of. That other non-profits would complain about the city paying another non-profit organisation to do work that nobody else did, and at a lower cost than do the others (including the RDN), is absolutely absurd. Is the other non-profit called “Encorp?” It funds some of the members of the consortium. It is hardly neutral in this matter.
I implore you to be responsible, not only for this year’s budget but for budgets decades in the future. I implore you to be accountable to the people who elected you. I implore you to be wise stewards of our resources. For goodness sakes, take over the NRE’s property and plans and start to work with them.

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