by Vicky Stamison
There is a serious problem with the recycling of plastics in North Grenville. At the moment, and possibly for some time past now, more than 15,000 plastic bags per month are being deposited in landfill. According to the current bylaw, plastics are separated into categories numbered 1 to 7 beverage grade and are limited to household items. The plastic bags not being collected now are labelled #4 and #5. This amounts to:
Shavings bags: 2,400 bags/month or 28,800 bags/year of labelled #4 plastic.
Feed Bags: 12,700 bags/month or 152,400 bags/year of labelled #5 plastic.
The figures were obtained from three feed stores within 15 minutes of my home and have not been adjusted for other bags, also labelled #4 and #5, such as are used to contain garden soil, mulch, or water softener salt, etc. What this means is that, potentially, thousands more recyclable bags are not being accepted for recycling. The bylaw never considered, or analysed, that part of agricultural waste not generated by farmers, but by stables and private animal keepers as part of their recycling program.
#4 and #5 are the least toxic and the easiest forms of plastic to recycle. Shavings and feed bags are clean plastic and are not degraded, as they can be placed out for recycling every month. The alternative being used by residents who cannot have their bags recycles includes burning and burying. Burying bags is wasteful by filling up landfill more rapidly with bulky material, and shortsighted because it renders an acceptably recyclable product totally unusable into the future.
Farmers and other agricultural producers formerly returned their plastics to agricultural retailers but are unable to do so now, because Agriculture Canada has determined that such retailers cannot store the plastic safely, and thereby risk contamination of other products. Telling people to not recycle a perfectly recyclable plastic product results in a loss of confidence in the entire recycling system in North Grenville, and means that it will be hard to bring them back into any recycle program, as people establish new habits or retain old habits of dealing with the plastic. People will resort to burying, burning, littering the countryside with, or illegally dumping, the excess plastic.
Technology and Provincial Government laws have changed substantially since the implementation of the 9 year-old North Grenville Bylaw 10-09. For example, as recently as last August, CBC announced breakthrough technology by a Montreal company for recycling styrofoam. The Company wants Municipalities to re-consider treating styrofoam as a valuable recyclable resource. Over 60% of plastics are recycled within Canada; it is all converted to pellets for industrial use. Only 14% ever went to China. Plastics reselling is a highly competitive business, we could be taking advantage of that, instead of dumping it all in the landfill. The separation process is highly mechanized and you do not have to thoroughly clean your peanut jar before submitting to the Blue Box – the plastics are cleaned later down the road as part of the industrial process. As of now, North Grenville’s recovery rate for plastics is only 30%.
So markets are not a criteria when it comes to deciding whether or not to accept these categories of plastic for recycling, as there are other MRFs who are currently recycling plastics not allowed under the current bylaw. The immediate solution would be to amend the too-narrow definition of recyclable plastic set in bylaw 10-09 by eliminating the words “beverage grade” to make more plastics #1 through #7 available for recycling.
For the longer term, the tender for handling Waste Management in North Grenville is up for renewal in November, 2019, with two one-year extensions. More research has to be performed by the Municipal staff to re-draft the current Recycling Program to include agricultural and gardening materials in the tendering, contracting, and/or sub-contracting processes for an appropriate MRF(s) in time before the expiration of the current Waste Management Contract. The research should also include obtaining advice from, and working with, OMAFRA, and possibly coordinating with the United Counties and/or other Counties to support this initiative.
The current situation is both unacceptable and unnecessary. The enormous quantity of plastic that is being sent to landfill, when it could quite easily be recycled, is a serious threat to our environment and a definite disincentive to residents to properly address recycling as an issue. The new Municipal Council has it in its power to fix this problem and to ensure the health of our environment for residents in the future.