Oceans turned into rolling, floating seas of plastic. Young children in poor countries scrambling through mountains of dirty plastic to find something valuable. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte demanding Canada pick up garbage sent by a Canadian company in 2014 to Manila that still sits there.
These realities raise the question, when people in Salmon Arm and the Shuswap dutifully deal with their recyclables, where do they end up?
Recycling is divided into four categories: residential, commercial, institutional and industrial.
The general message from those people involved in residential recycling in B.C. is, you can rest easy.
Five years ago, Recycle BC took over residential recycling. Under the old system, municipalities collected the materials and had to find a market for them on the world stage. Now it’s a provincial system, unlike what’s done in other parts of Canada.
“In British Columbia, it’s one agency… They can control the system, and understand the opportunities for recycling,” says Brock Macdonald, CEO of the Recycling Council of BC. “In Ontario, it’s a really big challenge when you have one that’s patchwork.”
Macdonald notes if a ship leaves from the Port of Vancouver carrying recyclables, those contents are not necessarily from B.C.
Rob Niewenhuizen, the city’s director of engineering and public works, defers to Recycle BC for information about end markets.
“What I do know is that the city collects the recycling and brings it to the CSRD (Columbia Shuswap Regional District) transfer station at the Salmon Arm landfill, from there it is picked up by Cascades Recovery Inc (who work under a Recycle BC contract), they sort the materials and from there it is shipped to end markets for processing,” says Niewenhuizen.
• A check with Recycle BC’s Dave Lefebvre reveals that any plastic that would go into a blue bin goes to a processing facility in the Lower Mainland, Merlin Plastics, which turns it into pellets. The pellets are sold and can be processed into new packaging or other products.
“Other materials do get shipped to other end markets, but the plastics are remaining entirely here (in B.C.),” Lefebvre says.
• Residential paper will go overseas, to the U.S. or remains in B.C. to be made into products including egg cartons and boxes.
• Glass goes to Abbotsford to be processed into new bottles and to Quesnel to become sandblast materials, which smooth or polish rough surfaces.
• Metal containers are sold to markets in B.C., Ontario and the U.S., to be recycled into new packaging such as aluminum cans, or sheet metal for automotive manufacturing.
Lefebvre says the companies putting the packaging into the marketplace fund the collection and marketing of those materials.
Both Lebebvre and Ben Van Nostrand, team leader of Environmental Health with the CSRD, stress the importance of residents recycling only the right materials. Putting in what isn’t accepted at curbside is considered contamination and can disqualify loads from being processed.
“We do have end markets here in British Columbia for our material so we want people to continue to recycle…,” emphasizes Lefebvre. “We want people, though, to make sure whatever they put in the bin is good quality. And we want people to be aware which materials can recycle.”
The City of Salmon Arm website provides information on what can be recycled curbside. As well, a free recycle coach app for your phone includes information and schedules.
Brock Macdonald believes reusing and repairing is the answer, so there is no end to product life.
“When you have waste, what you have is a design flaw.”