Right in the centre - Recycling’s house of cards is falling down


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

There are a few factors coming out now that clearly show what some of us have been saying for many years about the fragility of the recycling industry.

The biggest factor is that countries like China, and now more famously, the Philippines, are refusing to take recyclable materials from Canada. It turns out that while Canadians have been under the impression that their household-by-household recycling efforts have been yielding high rates of clean and valuable re-usable material, that has not been the case. The most famous case involves several dozen containers of material shipped to the Philippines, where they have been sitting under dispute for years. Apparently, there is too much garbage mixed in to make them of any value. Duterte, presidents of the Philippines, is threatening to send the containers all back to Canada at our expense.

One could hardly blame him, as his country, and many other Asian countries, have been receiving North America’s less than pristine recycling and have, surprise, surprise, discovered, it’s a money losing proposition.

Without the Asian market for plastics, North American jurisdictions are left with ever increasing mountains of worthless products with no future except the landfill. Our local landfill fees are up around $80 per tonne, so once a company has invested time, labour and equipment used in the assembling and baling of this junk, it is a very expensive proposition to get out from under the load.

Another factor that brings this problem to light is that at least two major news outlets have been running stories on recycling, namely CBC and Global. Now, perhaps that the bigger news outfits have discovered what many of us have known for years, that the viability of recycling is sketchy at best, there will be some concentrated efforts to face what is a real environmental issue.

Nobody wants to see garbage all over the place or piled in landfills. There has to be a better way. Certainly scrap steel recycling has always had some viability. Aluminum is very valuable, but it takes so many hundreds of cans to make a tonne that even it is not a viable proposition.

The basics of recycling have to be rooted in reality and legislation. First, garbage, be it “real” garbage or potential recyclables, has to be dealt with for health reasons and because a clean environment is desirable. Nobody wants to look at heaps of garbage, although it is hard to tell when you look at some homes and businesses.

If, as a society, we decide that we have to clean up after ourselves, then garbage and recycling issues have to be addressed. I think we have made that decision. Now how do we get there?

Containers have a levy at purchase. To make the system work, it likely has to be higher and payable to the person or group who actually turn in the container. It would take more research, but reverse vending machines are coming into use in some countries and may hold the key to effective container recycling. That may cover off the “high” end of recycling, but the answer to the “low” end may be quite different.

“Low” end recycling, such as dirty containers and very mixed loads, only have a few options. One is to dump them in the oceans, which is obviously being done and is despicable. Another is the landfill, which is better than the ocean but still not very desirable. The third is a clean burn for energy process and that might look after the “low” end recycling and even the “high” end recycling products that no matter how clean they may be, are hard to find a market for.

There are some very hard decisions that need to be made about garbage and recycling and those decisions are long overdue.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer president of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.