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Why so much Interior recycling will end up in landfills

August 02, 2018 - 8:00 PM

PENTICTON - Commercial recycling has become a major issue to waste handlers in the region, part of a problem that has become international in scope.

Waste Connections of Canada’s B.C. Interior Sales Manager Geoff Goodman says the North American recycling industry is reeling from China’s recent rejection of commercial recycling from North American sources due to contamination.

Goodman said China, home to 90 per cent of the world’s recycling, closed the door to a lot of materials from North American commercial markets in October 2017, due to high levels of contamination.

A delegation from North America found 111 million tonnes of commercial recycling sitting in landfills in China due to high levels of contamination.

“Customers weren’t conforming to what we were asking them to do with recycling,” Goodman says, adding the issue isn’t just a regional, or provincial one.

The Chinese shut down the commercial recycling market completely in July, and Goodman says secondary world markets for recycling are too small to absorb the overflow.

Goodman says there is no demand for certain recyclable products anymore.

“What we’re seeing right now in the industry, upwards of 60 per cent co-mingled materials — paper, plastic — are now being considered waste and being diverted to landfills,” he says, adding several large Canadian cities are trying to deal with the issue, but finding the materials are still ending up in the landfill.

Goodman says the only recyclables consistently being accepted, and having value, is cardboard.

“For our business and our industry, we need to clean this up,” he says, adding businesses are seeing their disposal costs constantly rising because recyclers are getting fined for having contaminated loads.

“We need more awareness on the street of what is happening, and as leaders in our community, we want to make sure our business owners are aware this is a serious problem,” he says.

“Before we could just send it somewhere. That isn’t the reality in this world anymore,” he says.

Goodman said the Okanagan appeared for a while was improving, but this year has gotten worse.

“We’re seeing more and more material being pushed to landfills,” he says, noting there are 500 tonnes of contaminated recyclables sitting in Kelowna with “no place to go.”

“By contamination, we’re talking milk jugs half full of milk, wine bottles half full, margarine tubs with margarine still in it. Once that food waste get onto that material, it ruins the entire load,” he says.

He says fines of $200, $300 and $400 were being charged for contaminated loads, but the fines weren’t working.

“We’re hoping as leaders, we can talk about it within our communities, and say we need to clean this up, because it is a real problem. If it’s garbage, put it in the garbage, it it’s truly recyclable, it can be recycled, there’s value in it.”

Goodman was speaking to the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen’s board of directors today, Aug. 2.

The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen does not directly provide recycling services to business, but hired consultants Green Step Solutions in 2017 to study commercial and multi-family sectors to see how improvements in recycling can take place.

Green Step conducted a series of recycling audits that concluded 80 per cent of commercial recycling is made of clean cardboard or mixed paper, but significant contamination was found in several recycling programs, in once case with up to 50 per cent of so-called recyclable materials actually being garbage.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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