Alberta newspapers push again in opposition to ‘boneheaded’ EPR recycling coverage

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The goal of the regulations is to shift the cost of recycling packaging from municipalities to producers

Alberta community newspapers are bristling at new paper recycling regulations. Alberta community newspapers are bristling at new paper recycling regulations. Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

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Alberta community newspapers are bristling at new recycling regulations that could increase their costs by millions of dollars of year at a time when many are struggling to continue operations.

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The province released its new Extended Producer Responsibility regulation earlier this week following in the footsteps of Ontario, BC, Saskatchewan and Manitoba who all have put similar regulations in place in recent years. The goal of the regulations is to reduce the amount of material like packaging that ends up in the recycle bin while shifting the cost of recycling off of municipalities and onto producers. In the case of newspapers, the product is paper, not the packaging.

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There are exemptions for some products like books, but in Alberta newspapers have not been granted the same status.

“This boneheaded policy will kill journalism jobs in Alberta,” said Paul Deegan, president and CEO of News Media Canada. “It makes no sense that cheesy romance novels are exempt while newspapers published by Albertans for Albertans get slammed with this punitive tax when the business is in dire straits.”

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He said the role of community papers has become increasingly important in an age of disinformation and fake news on social media. They play an important role in informing the community and holding local politicians to account.

A rate has not yet been set for newspapers, but Saskatchewan’s rate sits at $280 per ton, similar to Manitoba’s.

Ontario recently changed its EPR to exempt newspapers and the hope from the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association is a similar change will be made before the regulation comes into effect on Nov. 30.

Evan Jamison, president of AWNA and vice president of manufacturing for Great West Media, estimates the cost to newspapers in Alberta at about $2 million per year, including major metros and small community papers.

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This will hit papers differently depending on size, and some may be exempted on low revenue and production levels. Jamison says for a publication like their flagship paper the St. Albert Gazette it would be about $50,000 a year. For the major metros it could be hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

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While that singular cost is not a kill shot, it’s more of a death by a thousand cuts, as the cost of paper has increased by about a third, while ink and plating costs have gone up about 20 to 30 per cent and distribution costs have soared with rising gas prices. This is on top of the well-documented decline in revenues over the last 20 years.

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Jamison said the industry has already taken many steps to reduce paper, including moving to smaller formats, reducing waste, and using paper that is 18 per cent lighter.

“You still need paper, you still need a certain amount of space to get the stories out to get the ads on,” he said. “We’re kind of running out of room for cost adjustments and reductions.”

Dennis Merrell, executive director for AWNA, said their membership has dropped from a peak of 125 members to 90. It’s not just the number of titles that have disappeared, it is smaller newsrooms covering a larger area with a smaller product to fit the news into . Since the beginning of the pandemic, 1,300 jobs have been permanently cut from Canadian journalism across all formats.

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While there has been a push to digitize newspapers over the last decade, print remains the driver of revenue for community papers through advertising and subscriptions.

“The only way it’s viable on an app in an advertising model is if you’re reaching millions and millions of people,” said Merrell. “Obviously, in a small community, you’re not reaching that number of people. You’re just reaching 1,000 or 2,000 people.”

The province in an emailed statement said newspapers will have the opportunity to negotiate with municipalities for in-kind advertising in place of EPR charges, though Merrell said this comes with a range of issues as well.

“A single, province-wide EPR system collecting a consistent list of products will save municipal taxpayers money, make recycling easier to understand and more accessible, and encourage better product design by producers,” said Charlotte Taillon, press secretary for the Office of the Minister of Environment and Parks at an email.

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