What Happens To My Recycling: A Closer Look

Introduction:

Recycle BC is responsible for residential packaging and paper recycling in BC. We ensure packaging and paper is collected from households, and recycling depots, processed and responsibly recycled. We service over 1.8 million households through curbside, multi-family and depot collection, including 98% of the population having access to depots and over 155 communities participating in the program through curbside or multi-family collection. Recycle BC has a consistent material list for all participating communities.

Recycle BC is an extended producer responsibility model, which means that businesses (sometimes referred to as producers) are responsible for end-of-life management of the packaging and paper they supply to consumers. Businesses pay fees based on the amount of packaging and paper they supply to the market to off-set the costs of collecting, processing and recycling this material. In BC, Recycle BC manages the program on behalf of producers.

 

China’s ban on foreign recyclables:

Recent changes in global recycling end-markets are impacting jurisdictions and recycling processors across North America and around the world. Early in 2017, China announced its National Sword program resulting in customs inspection and import limitations on mixed paper and various grades of post-consumer plastics entering China. In July 2017, China notified the World Trade Organization that it intended to ban some imports of waste (China previously recycled about half of the globe’s plastics and paper products). The China ban went into effect January 1, 2018 with new strict standards as of March 1, 2018 leaving many collectors without end-markets for certain materials. With an oversupply of material in the market, only the highest quality materials will sell, therefore many recycling programs will be looking to improve their material quality or some may be removing items from accepted material lists.

 

Recycle BC end-markets:

Despite shifting world markets for much of Canada’s recyclable materials, Recycle BC has been able to ensure that plastic packaging, paper products, glass and metal containers collected through its program in BC are still being recycled.

Local governments, regional districts, private collectors, First Nations, and not-for-profit organizations collect packaging and paper through curbside, multi-family or depot collection on behalf of Recycle BC.

Materials collected as part of the Recycle BC program curbside, multi-family and in depots are currently sold and processed as follows:

  • Plastic containers and plastic bags and overwrap collected in the remain in BC, with a local end-market in Metro Vancouver that processes this material into pellets that can be manufactured into new packaging and other products.
  • Glass is shipped to Abbotsford to be processed into new bottles and to Quesnel to be made into sandblast materials.
  • Metal containers are sold to end-markets in BC, Ontario and the United States and can be recycled into new packaging, like aluminum cans, and sheet metal for automotive manufacturing.
  • Paper collected is sold to end-markets overseas, in the United States or in BC and can be made into things like egg cartons, boxes, and other paper products.
  • Foam packaging is recycled locally in Metro Vancouver and overseas and made into things like picture frames and crown moulding.
  • Other Flexible Plastic Packaging is collected as part of a research and development project to determine how best this material can be recycled. During this time, material that is unable to be recycled will be recovered and produced into engineered fuel.

 

Why do we still have markets?

Recycling markets are extremely difficult now and we believe we continue to have markets because we have relatively low levels of contamination in BC compared to other jurisdictions. Contamination includes anything that is not accepted in the program, items that are tied in bags, or items that have significant amounts of left-over product in them.

Some strategies we’ve employed to keep contamination rates low include:

  • Encouraging multi-stream collection. This means collecting paper in one bin and containers (excluding glass) in another bin. This is not the case for all communities across BC, but contamination rates are consistently lower for multi-stream collectors.
  • Accepting certain materials only at depots. Foam packaging, plastic bags and overwrap, other flexible plastic packaging, and glass (if not collected separately at the curb) are best managed collected separately at depots.
  • Requiring a minimum contamination rate with our collectors. All collectors aim to meet a 3% contamination requirement as part of their agreements with Recycle BC.
  • Educating residents, together with our collectors, to help residents understand what can and can’t be included in the recycling bins and what should be returned to depots.
  • Enforcing contamination levels at the curb. Collectors will remove and not collect contamination from recycling bins when possible.

However, markets are continually changing, and they aren’t a guarantee so it’s very important that residents continue to do their part help us collect clean material that can be recycled.

Key take-aways:

Material that is clean, properly sorted, and contains only accepted material is now more important than ever to ensure we have viable end-markets for all our materials. Residents included in the Recycle BC program are encouraged to continue rinsing their recyclable materials and include only accepted material to reduce contamination and ensure that these materials continue to have an end-market. View material list or search materials at RecycleBC.ca/what-can-i-recycle.

Residents living in multi-family buildings who are concerned about the end-markets for their recyclable materials, and are not part of the Recycle BC program, can return their clean containers, paper, glass bottles and jars, foam packaging, and soft plastic packaging to one of over 200 recycling depots that accept Recycle BC program materials. Find a depot near you at RecycleBC.ca/depots.


Why B.C. is better at recycling than most of Canada

British Columbia is better than most other provinces at recycling, boasting one of the most efficient recycling programs in Canada. Watch the video below for three reasons why B.C.’s recycling system works so well.