A decision made by the government in China a few months ago has caused problems for recyclers across Canada, closing the door to many of them.
But so far this has not impacted the recycling programs in Virden, Elkhorn, Oak Lake and other Westman communities.
On Dec. 31, China brought in stricter standards for materials the country will accept, refusing to take “contaminated” shipments.
In some Canadian cities, rejected loads of plastic and paper are piling up and the fear is they may end up in landfills.
But not in Saskatchewan, where Virden’s recyclables go.
Loraas Disposal is the Saskatchewan company contracted by the town of Virden and several RMs to manage their recycling.
Companies like Loraas are keenly aware of the potential impact China’s new standards could have on the worldwide market for recycling and their bottom line.
Loraas sales manager Scott Nelson says other waste management companies are having trouble finding markets for their plastics now that China has changed the game.
But so far, Loraas is safe. It sends materials to Crown Shred and Recycling in Regina, which in turn sells to a Canadian broker who sells to China and other buyers.
Nelson says, “They’re (Crown) in a good position to sell plastics even though the door to China is closing because Crown doesn’t accept lower quality bales. They take ours because we keep the quality high.”
Cory Shaw, general manager of Crown Shred, says he wasn’t surprised by China’s crackdown because, “North America has been sending them low quality material for a long time.”
Not just contaminated but also improperly separated goods. For example, they would bale materials like paper and plastic together for shipment overseas.
Fortunately for recycling customers, China’s clampdown hasn’t affected Crown Shred, which has been able to continue selling its materials as it did before the change.
So for now, the recycling life cycle remains undisturbed as it goes from blue curbside carts in Virden or communal bins in the RM of Wallace-Woodworth to factories around the world.
But that could change at any time depending on the always-fluctuating supply, demand and price for recyclables. Executives at Crown Shred and Loraas are watching closely.
Where Your Stuff Goes
For most of us, once our blue bin is emptied into the truck, it’s out of sight, out of mind. But in fact that’s just the beginning.
The Loraas trucks that do curbside collection in Virden are based out of a depot in Kennedy, Sask. where they start and finish their day.
When each truckload is dumped out, the cardboard pieces are removed and separated from the rest. Cardboard is more valuable than other materials, Nelson explains, because of increased demand for packing materials for ecommerce shipping.
Everything else is sorted first by hand then by machine before being baled again and shipped to the buyer, usually overseas.
Keeping it Clean
Nelson says Loraas and Crown Shred have kept the materials flowing because they work hard to keep recycled items in the clean, sorted condition China is now demanding.
And that’s where we, as curbside recyclers, can help. Because all it takes is a carton of sour milk to ruin a whole truckload of paper, cardboard, and other materials, turning it into unusable trash destined for the landfill.
As Nelson puts it, “A quarter can of tomato sauce can spoil more than just what’s in the cart.”
You may remember when Loraas Disposal was contracted by the Town of Virden three years ago to do curbside recycling. Automated trucks replaced the workers who used to sort blue box items at the curb and leave any unacceptable objects behind.
Without that oversight, strange things started showing up at the depot in Kennedy and a message went out asking homeowners to please stop putting dirty disposable diapers in the recycling carts.
But those growing pains seem to be over. These days, Nelson says his team in Kennedy is happy with the way customers in Virden and the other towns they serve in Westman are following the recycling dos and don’ts.
Reminder: What You Can Put in Blue Cart:
Paper and Cardboard
- Flattened corrugated cardboard and paperboard (cereal boxes, detergent boxes, tissue boxes, cardboard egg trays) Pizza boxes accepted ONLY if not too greasy.
- Newspaper, flyers, inserts, junk mail, envelopes
- Magazines, catalogues, phone books, paperbacks, hardcover books with covers and spine removed
- Brown paper bags, tissue roll cores, gift and packing paper
- Copier paper, NCR paper
Aluminum and Tin
- Soft drink and beer cans
- Foil trays and pie plates
- Household tin cans (please rinse, no chunks of food, labels on or off)
- Containers with PET logos 1-7
- Plastic bags, plastic drink bottles and plastic wrap
- Aseptic packaging and cartons
- Juice and milk cartons, milk jugs, tetra-paks, pouches
- Household bottles and jars (please rinse)
What You Should Never Put in Cart:
- Household garbage, organics, or hazardous waste
- Waxed, plasticized or food contaminated paper, cardboard cups or plastic plates
- Soiled tissues, napkins and paper towels
- Confetti shredded paper
- Styrofoam or other foam packing materials
- Auto parts or batteries