Could “garbage” soon become obsolete?
EVERY TWO WEEKS and exactly on schedule, an Emterra truck rolls onto our street and begins taking up the contents of the brimming Blue Boxes at the foot of each driveway. It’s an efficient operation: After just a few minutes of purposeful clattering the truck moves on to feed somewhere else.
Have you ever wondered where all that stuff goes? Welcome to the complex world of recycling.
First, a little background to help keep things clear. While garbage and organics are the jurisdiction of municipalities (or private enterprise, as in the case of North Saanich), recycling is the CRD’s responsibility. Prior to 2014 the CRD oversaw its own collection program and used municipal funds (meaning our tax dollars) to pay for it.
But then the Province upended all that by transferring province-wide recycling costs from the taxpayer to the 1300 companies up the line that make and sell all the materials we recycle. The move wasn’t without precedence but it certainly was brash: Now food processing companies, for example, would pay “stewardship fees” for the recycling of food packaging, not the family buying the groceries. Now the print media would be paying to recycle newspapers and magazines, not the readers. (But let’s not be naïve, dear readers. We ultimately still pay through increased product pricing—how could it be otherwise? At least now the recycling costs are affixed to consumer usage rather than municipal tax dollars.)
Despite bitter protest from the industry, the Province was unwavering and tasked the Vancouver-based non-profit Recycle BC (then known as Mixed-Materials BC) with a huge two-pronged mission: collect the stewardship fees from the industry—currently about $83 million annually—and use that money to pay for and expand recycling services in BC. As part of that agreement, municipalities would relinquish all aspects of collection to Recycle BC.
Such blanket power and money for one small non-profit does invite valid and lingering concerns, but there’s no denying that Recycle BC has made some notable progress in a relatively short time. Almost every BC community now has access to recycling services. We’re keeping more recyclables out of the waste stream and finding increasingly viable and more local markets for their re-use. Last year 185,000 tonnes were collected province-wide—that’s 185 million kilograms—of which 92 percent was successfully recycled.
In most of BC, collection now happens either curbside, at multi-family collection points (apartment buildings, for example) and through established collection depots. For much of this heavy lifting Recycle BC has partnered with Green By Nature, an all-Canadian triumvirate that includes Emterra Environmental (the collector), Cascades Recovery (the sorter) and Merlin Plastics (the refiner). Big business has indeed discovered recycling.
Back in the CRD, the Emterra truck unloads at the local Cascades Recovery depot on Bridge Street. Emterra charges $5 million annually for collection services in the CRD—some 20,000 tonnes last year, or about 53 kilograms per resident. Recycle BC now pays that fee with stewardship revenue as described above. (I wonder if my municipal tax bill has been reduced accordingly? But again, I digress.)
Cascades Recovery begins tackling the load. The separately collected paper is baled for shipping to China, still the only market where it can be processed into boxboard. We’ll see it back as cereal boxes and egg cartons. Glass, also collected separately, is trucked to Duncan to be made into aggregate for roadway construction.
The mixed metals and plastics are cleaned and separated. Metals are trucked over to a Victoria company that readies them for shipment to Ontario to be refined into rebar and other products.
The plastics are shipped to Merlin Plastics in Delta for processing into pellets to be sold for manufacturing. The pellets come in several grades and can be made into a wide range of goods including non-food bottles, clothing, carpeting, garbage cans, CD cases and plastic lumber.
Recycle BC envisions an increasingly circular and more sustainable economy in which materials will continually be reused and repurposed. It is working with the industry to develop more lightweight packaging, cleaner adhesives, and even a more easily recycled K-cup pod.
I’ve only just scratched the surface here, but now we know this: We’re reaping where we previously didn’t see bounty; someday garbage will be obsolete; and landfills are bulging with the next motherlodes.
In “Part II” in the next edition of Focus, Trudy will explore the ins and outs of everything else we can recycle in the CRD.