Recycling Changes & More to Come

Updated 33 weeks ago
Recycling Changes & More to Come

I’m sure you’ve noticed the changes to our municipal recycling programs recently with fewer items being accepted and more being sent straight into the local landfill.

Don’t blame your town council or the recycling contractor because similar changes are happening across Canada and the US. It is a direct result of import restrictions by countries like China who’ve ban plastic waste that cannot be recycled sustainably. This ban has created cost pressures for blue box programs as municipalities have limited options for processing their collected materials.

It started with polystyrene (styrofoam) no longer being accepted, and now glass and plastics #3-6 have been eliminated from our recycling program as well.

In addition to strict new limits on what recycling material can be shipped off, prices have dropped. “Between 2017-2019: Plastic film-down 62%, Newspaper-down 53%, Corrugated cardboard-down 52% and Aluminum cans-down 21%. “

As part of the ban, China also announced a new 0.5 percent contamination rate standard for materials which it will accept. One oily pizza box or unwashed peanut butter jar can make a bale of recycling too contaminated and rejected. Part of the future of recycling will have to be cleaning up the way people use the blue box program or it will just end up in the landfill anyway.

It is estimated that currently up to 30% of blue bin material could be contaminated, which also occurs when the wrong items are thrown in the bins ie. plastic cardboard, window pane or coloured glass, and lids that are not removed. According to recycling contractors glass is often highly contaminated, heavy, extremely hard on recycling equipment and worth very little on the market. On the up side, glass is easily broken down in the landfill and can act as a filtering system for the ground, no different than aggregate.

The only items currently collected in our blue bins are newspaper, cardboard, metal cans, and #1 & #2 plastics. *NOTE: Since this article was written we have received information that "#1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6 plastics are all still accepted in the co-mingle bins (accept Styrofoam #6) for the Johnson & Tarbutt Landfill site. Also, the old MWRC blue bins will be painted lime green and new signage will be installed on the recycling bins, though there has been no date provided by GFL as to when this will occur.

Municipalities are concerned about the amount of pressure these changes to the blue box program will put on their landfill sites.

Curious about how much people are recycling in our area? We were too, so Glenn Martin Clerk of Tarbutt Township told us, “In 2017 a grand total of 262 tons of recycling was hauled away from the Johnson Tarbutt Joint Landfill site in Desbarats. This included blue box items, Styrofoam, tires, e-waste (electronics), batteries and items picked up by Community Living Algoma from the share shed”.

In 2018, 64 tons of recycling was collected in the blue bins located at the landfill site in Desbarats.

Recycling contractor, Green For Life (GFL) recently bought out the Municipal Waste and Recycling Consultants in Blind River. Now all local municipalities are contracting with GFL, although the old blue bins are still being used.

Municipalities can apply for Waste Diversion Ontario funding by completing a yearly Datacall. Clerk Glenn Martin says, “It’s a complicated and frustrating Datacall to complete, that is not at all designed with small, rural, joint municipal programs in mind, but by doing it we manage to get back most of what it costs to contract out our recycling program”.

This funding is also changing as the province moves to a new model. “Ontario’s existing waste diversion programs are transitioning to a producer responsibility model. Regulations that make producers (the companies that design, create, and market products and packaging) fully responsible for the materials they use. The province hopes this will lead to new and innovative ways to package products sustainably.

Ontario’s Used Tires Program was the first to change. Tires were previously collected at municipal landfill sites and recycled through a provincial program that paid municipalities $0.25 per tire. That program was cancelled at the end of 2018, so tires are no longer accepted at landfills. Ontario has placed the responsibility of recycling onto the tire producers. Used tires can now be dropped, free of charge, at a shop that sells and installs new tires.

Other programs scheduled to transition are:

Municipal Hazardous or Special Waste Program recycles or properly disposes of paint, antifreeze, batteries, fertilizers and other hazardous or special materials. Battery materials will transition to the producer responsibility model on July 1, 2020 and the remaining program materials will transition on July 1, 2021.

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Program reuses or recycles electronic equipment like computers, televisions and stereos. It will transition to the producer responsibility model on January 1, 2021.

Blue Box Program recycles printed paper and packaging (plastics, paper, glass, aluminum, steel). The first group of municipalities or First Nations will transfer responsibility of their Blue Box programs to producers on January 1, 2023. By December 31, 2025, producers will be fully responsible for providing Blue Box services province wide.

In addition, the province plans to make future blue bin programs consistent across Ontario. All municipalities will be collecting the same items.

Information and stats in this article from the Made in Ontario Environment Plan and Ontario’s Waste Diversion Programs, and Waste Management.