Ontario government reconsiders blue box recycling program

Ontario’s government is now reconsidering whether its blue box recycling program is worth it amidst concerns over growing shortcomings.

Dylan Gibbons Montreal QC

Ontario’s government is now reconsidering its blue box recycling program amidst concerns over growing shortcomings.

David Lindsay, a special advisor on the management of recycling and plastics, recently gave a report on these shortcomings to Environment Minister Jeff Yurek on Tuesday, reports Global News.

As Yurek explains, “Over 240 municipalities have their own separate lists of accepted recyclable materials, which affects cost savings and contamination,” Yurek said. “Program costs are expected to increase by approximately $10 million per year after 2019.”

“It’s clear that Ontario’s current Blue Box Program is unsustainable,” he added.

Lindsay’s report also notes that “recycling rates have stalled for 15 years and up to 30 percent of what is put into blue boxes is sent to landfill.” This means that everyone who is going to recycle has already been recycling.

Furthermore, in the past, most of our recyclable material was never truly recycled or sent to a landfill. It was sold to foreign countries, China and Hong Kong being our primary buyers of recyclable materials. However, as will be explained, this changed over the last decade and its repercussions are going to be very costly.

Part of the changes that the Environment Minister is planning for Ontario’s blue box program includes transferring the costs associated with recycling and waste production to businesses and industries who create most of the waste. His hope is that additional costs associated with producing products unlikely to be recycled will provide incentives for companies to invest in creating more easily recyclable products.

This latest consideration comes in the midst of growing concerns that has some outlets, such as The Globe and Mail, asking serious questions over the efficacy of continuing our faulty recycling programs, as well as concerns over where to dump our waste now that many Asian countries are banning waste dumping from Canada.

So, how much of our plastic actually gets reused? According to the Canadian group Environment Defence, which tracks these issues, about 11 percent of our recyclables gets reused. 89 percent does not. Most has been routinely shipped overseas, mainly to China, where they have bought the already made plastics so that they can focus on exporting their own.

However, as these countries have grown economically, they’ve stopped buying our plastics and their concerns have turned to making their countries cleaner and more environmentally friendly.

“The extended holding pattern the scrap was forced to endure is a symptom of a much wider emergency engulfing the global recycling industry,” reports The Globe and Mail’s Jeff Lewis and Molly Hayes. “It followed on China’s decision, one year ago, to ban the import of 24 types of recyclable commodities. The hard-line new policy, dubbed National Sword, was a response to environmental and health concerns, and also to the “contaminated” state in which recyclables arrived: often in filthy condition, and with random materials lumped into single bales.

“A Globe and Mail analysis of international trade data shows that Canadian exports of scrap plastic dropped by one-fifth last year, with especially steep reductions in the amounts sent to Hong Kong and China—72 percent and 96 percent, respectively. (Chinese imports of Canadian used paper also plunged, by 65 percent; that drop poses less of a challenge—paper is a homogeneous commodity and generally easier to recycle).”

The analysis goes on to detail just how desperate the effects of China’s ban on recycling imports will be on the world’s recycling industry. China’s refusal to continue being a dumping site for the world’s unwanted scrap has already increased recycling costs by up to 40%, and this is just the beginning.

“Something’s got to give—Canada needs to step up,” claims Keith Brooks, program director at the Canadian group, Environmental Defence. “We have been pushing the feds to come up with a strong national plan to deal with the 89 percent of plastic not being recycled in Canada each year.”

“Right now there is no national recycling target,” Brooks said in an interview with The Weather Network. “There are no rules requiring or even encouraging plastic producers to use recycled plastic. There are not even bans on hard-to-recycle or toxic plastics like Styrofoam. Producers are allowed to put any kind of packaging onto the market, and municipalities have to figure out how to deal with it.”

The coming overhaul in the recycling industry has already become quite expensive for Canada.

“Some Alberta municipalities have nixed select plastic packaging from blue-bag collection, opting to send it to landfills,” explains Lewis and Hayes. “In Fort Saskatchewan, just outside Edmonton, fees paid for dropping recyclables at a sorting centre have tripled in the last year. Now, the company that sorts the city’s recyclables wants only those plastics that it can easily sell, such as clear pop bottles and laundry-detergent jugs.”

Though, these are just anecdotes. The quantitative, nation-wide effects of this change in both recycling and waste disposal are likely to be far-reaching and much more costly than current projections predict.

As Asian countries, and possibly African countries in coming decades, claw their way out of third-world status, first-world countries won’t be able to lean so heavily on their previous dependence of used materials. Instead, we, in first world countries, will actually have to find a way to deal with our own wastefulness, rather than simply outsourcing our problems.


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