New statistics for 2018 show Niagara residents put out 38,000 metric-tonnes of recycling material in their blue and grey boxes last year, including many types of paper and plastic products and packaging.
According to Niagara Recycling CEO Norman Kraft, Niagara’s recycling program is “one of the more comprehensive” in Ontario, and even across Canada.
“We certainly have gone beyond what most municipalities do for recycling,” he said.
Niagara accepts more material than many municipalities, such as black plastic food takeout trays and flower flats, empty aerosol cans, and empty paint cans.
Acting commissioner of public works Catherine Habermebl says one measure of the effectiveness of the program is the recycling plant on Montrose Avenue in Niagara Falls. “Only four to five per cent goes out as garbage,” compared to as much as “24 per cent in Toronto.”
Habermebl also notes that Niagara Recycling produces “a product from recycled glass that sells for $100 per metric tonne, where others have to pay to get rid of their glass.”
Yet there is still room for improvement.
If Niagara residents could grant Kraft three wishes to make recycling work even better in 2019, they would all start with the letter P — plastic film, pet food bags, and propane cylinders.
“The biggest issue is plastic film, which includes bread bags, paper towel wrapping, plastic wrap, grocery bags — anything that stretches. We ask people to stuff it all in a plastic bag, tie the bag, and toss it into the grey box, but it’s not happening,” says Kraft.
There’s a large volume of loose bits of stretchy plastic in the grey and blue bins, “so that requires manual sorting, it jams up equipment, and some ends up going to the garbage instead of being recycled,” he explains. “It also ends up contaminating other material we sell, such as cans.”
There is so much loose plastic film, staff can’t keep up with all of it as it goes by on the conveyor belts, so some of it ends up going into sorting equipment. Kraft cites, as an example, the automated sorting machine for aluminum cans, saying “the film gets clogged in the sorter, it jams up the system, and we have to manually clean it off every ten minutes.”
In other cases, he says, the stretchy plastic “wraps around shafts and damages equipment.”
Kraft adds, “We have a very good market for plastic, it goes to EFS Plastics in Listowel, where it is turned into pellets used to make new products,” such as “plastic totes, crates, black garbage bags. In 2018 we recycled 1,700 metric-tonnes of plastic film, and we could increase that by another 200 tons if it were recycled properly.”
People are aware that stretchy plastic can be recycled, but at least half are not packing it as requested, he said. If more people would follow the instructions to stuff, tie, and toss, “it would be a game changer for us.”
Pet food bags are another peeve of Kraft’s. He says when it comes to items put in the blue bins that are actually garbage, “the biggest culprit is multi-laminated packaging material, especially pet food bags.”
“They’re laminated on the outside and waxed on the inside, so they’re garbage, they can’t be recycled.”
Yet many do make their way into blue boxes and have to be manually removed from the stream of recyclable materials.
Other things found in blue boxes are not only not recyclable, but actually a threat to worker safety.
“We get hundreds of propane cylinders. If they go through a baling machine they could explode.”
Kraft said staff have to spot and remove the cylinders as they come through on the conveyor belts.
Propane cylinders should be taken to Household Hazardous Waste depots, not be placed in recycling or garbage bins, Kraft said.
Depot locations can be found on the Region’s website, niagararegion.ca.
New recycling guidelines for 2019 have been distributed to all households in Niagara recently, and Kraft is hoping residents will take heed to pack up stretchy plastics properly, place laminated pet food bags in the garbage, and take propane cylinders to hazardous waste depots.
Those three actions would make recycling in Niagara far more effective for 2019.