By Tam Davis
Listen to that sound of breaking glass or scraping metal when the contents of your blue bin are dumped into the bowels of the recycling truck. It is a reminder that all is not right with our recycling process. There is a direct link between those sounds and the bankruptcy of Récupération 2000 last fall, leaving thousands of tons of worthless, untreated, contaminated materials that will have to be transported to a landfill at a cost of some $2 million. There are important lessons to be learned from this saga.
For many years the company operated a plant in Cowansville which processed 6000 tonnes per year of recycled material collected in several municipalities in Brome-Missisquoi MRC. It sold large bundles of recycled paper and card- board to markets in Asia and the Far East. However, it failed to respond to market pressures to improve product quality, when China and other Asian countries announced in late 2017 they would no longer accept product having contaminants (particles of glass, metal, dirt or plastic) mixed into the paper exceeding 1% of volume. The price fell from $140/ton prior to the announcement to $20/ton in November 2018. Those markets are essentially closed to those Quebec recyclers unable to attain the 1% standard.
Are we facing a recycling crisis? Cowansville acted quickly to deal with the immediate situation. It hired Sani-Éco, which operates a recycling treatment plant in Granby, to process its residents’ blue bin materials. The MRC is taking steps to increase both the quantity and quality of our recycled materials, and thereby reduce the costs of the program. The majority of Quebec recycling operators are financially healthy and, like Sani-Éco, have invested in equipment to improve their operations.
However, while markets in India and Indonesia are still open to buy our recycling products, this may not continue in the future. Quebec operators will have to develop alternative markets, including in North America. To succeed, they must reduce the quantity of contaminants in the materials. This is not an easy task. Dirt, debris or banned materials from one bin can contaminate an entire truckload. Emptying bins into the truck can cause cross-contamination: bits of broken glass, metal or plastic become embedded in paper and cardboard during transit. To deal with this, Bromont’s council recently adopted a resolution asking the MRC to study the possibility of separate collection of glass. As residents, we have a crucial role to play.
Quality matters: keep what goes into your blue bin (paper, cardboard, glass, metal and plastic) clean and dry, free from dirt, rust and debris. We should also support initiatives, like Bromont’s resolution, that strive to reduce contamination.