To Alberta Environment Minister Schulz,
The implementation of Alberta’s new Extended Producer Responsibility Program (EPR) has been a concern for newspapers across the province for some time. The Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association believes the fees imposed under the new EPR program will have a detrimental impact on newspapers across the province. Our association has been engaged with the EPR consultation process from the beginning but does not believe our concerns have been adequately considered or addressed.
EPR will layer additional costs on an important industry that is already under severe pressure. AWNA estimates that EPR fees could cost Alberta newspapers upwards of $1 million per year. A small rural newspaper like Town and Country (serving Barrhead, Westlock and Athabasca) could be looking at EPR fees of $9k/yr. or more. A newspaper like the St. Albert Gazette could be looking at upwards of $40k/yr. in fees. The larger the newspaper, the higher the cost. To some these might look like small numbers, but they are in addition to many other rising costs. In the past couple of years, we have seen electricity charges more than double, printing plate and newsprint prices increase by more than 30 per cent, ink costs increase by more than 20 per cent, fuel costs, labour costs, property taxes … You name it, and it is likely up.
Even if the smallest newspapers are excluded from paying fees under de minimus standards, they will still be impacted indirectly.
The largest newspapers will incur the highest fees and they are in no better position to pay them. Affecting their viability will have knock on effects in the handful of printing plants Alberta newspapers use. The print ecosystem is well integrated, and the larger papers carry most of the costs in the printing facilities.
What is gained by having newspapers included in the EPR program? The province lists several goals:
Reducing the volume of waste going to landfills.
- Better managing waste through the circular economy.
- Encourage companies to produce less waste and come up with innovative ways to recycle.
- Diversify the economy.
- Shift costs from municipalities and taxpayers to the producers of the waste.
The newspaper industry believes that we have already achieved most of these goals, without the need for EPR.
- We have moved to lighter weight papers, produced locally at Alberta Newsprint Company in Whitecourt.
- We print only the number of pages and copies we need for each edition. The volume of newsprint sent into the recycling stream has been declining steadily.
- Old newsprint is easily recyclable.
- Old newsprint has high collection rates.
- Old newsprint has well established recycling markets and has commercial value in the recycling stream.
It is highly unlikely that any domestic capacity will be developed for repulping old newsprint in our province. There isn’t enough volume to make it work and there is sufficient existing infrastructure across North America.
Recent studies from Dr. Calvin Lakhan at York University have shown that EPR programs often do not meet their objectives and can add inflationary costs to consumers. See Toronto Star article: ‘Little green lies we fill our blue boxes with plastic, but hardly any gets recycled – will Fords’ new system change that?’
The newspaper industry is under severe financial strain and many newspapers across Alberta are already struggling to make ends meet. The printed product still pays most of the bills for almost all newspapers, and it is unclear if small markets can be well served in a digital only manner. We have recently seen 15 Postmedia papers in Alberta switch to digital only, citing high production and distribution costs as part of the reason. Moving to digital only can also affect access to the newspaper. Not everyone has good internet access, or even wants to read the paper online.
Newspapers play an important role in their local communities. The federal government has recognized this and is actively working to support our industry through different programs and legislation like the Online News Act (C-18). While any support is appreciated and needed, it is still unclear how much compensation Alberta papers will get from the new federal legislation.
Recognizing the importance of the local paper in their community and the harmful effect EPR will have on it, the Town of Barrhead, AB, has asked for newspapers to be exempted from the program (Town and Country Today article – ‘Town of Barrhead to help lobby for newspaper EPR exemption’).
The Government of Ontario also recognizes the importance of local newspapers and the challenges they face. That province decided to exempt newspapers from its revamped EPR program. If one looks outside of Canada, you will find many jurisdictions that exempt newspapers from EPR type programs.
Some argue that newspapers should pay their “fair share” for the content we add to the recycle stream. Is forcing us to do so worth adding to the risk of losing the printed newspaper in many communities?
You can’t just look at the cost of recycling newspapers without considering the benefits they provide to the communities they serve.
Open Letter from Evan Jamison – President of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association