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New recycling bosses gird for scrap over glass pickup

Glass jars and bottles may be banned from blue boxes, forcing residents to take them to depots, if a new plan for recycling of packaging is adopted. - File
Glass jars and bottles may be banned from blue boxes, forcing residents to take them to depots, if a new plan for recycling of packaging is adopted.
— image credit: File

The new agency taking charge of blue box recycling will try again to convince its critics that it makes sense to end curbside pickup of glass bottles and jars, forcing households to take them to depots.

Multi-Material BC (MMBC), the industry stewardship group the province has charged with recycling all types of packaging and printed paper starting in mid-2014, will meet Metro Vancouver's waste committee April 4 to discuss its revised plan.

"We haven't made a decision," MMBC spokesman Allen Langdon said. "What we're looking for is to have a discussion on the environmental merits."

Some civic leaders think moving to depot-only collection of glass would be a big reduction in service, resulting in more bottles and jars ending up in the landfill.

But Langdon said there's a mistaken assumption that glass put in blue boxes is actually recycled.

"We think maybe 15 per cent of that glass is actually being recycled and the rest is going to the landfill anyway," Langdon said.

The "recycled" portion is actually being used as road aggregate, he said, not turned into new glass.

Separating glass from the blue box stream – where it can break, contaminate and degrade the value of other recyclables – would help MMBC find better markets and get higher prices for recyclables, he said.

"We think it's going to increase recycling of glass, plastic and fibre," Langdon said.

"Some [Metro directors] seem to think it's an issue of cost when really it's about how we're going to recycle the greatest amount of material."

Port Coquitlam already uses a depot system for glass and finds it more effective and profitable than curbside pickup, Langdon said.

Most glass already comes to depots, because of refundable deposits on bottles, rather than via blue boxes.

MMBC hopes numerous partner depots, such as existing bottle depots, would take their recyclables. Langdon predicts residents won't have to take excluded material like glass only to municipal transfer stations.

MMBC also intends to have depot-only pickup of expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) and film plastic such as shopping bags and drycleaning bags.

Metro waste committee chair and Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie expects strong opposition to MMBC's "short-sighted" plan to end glass pickup.

"Our residents have gotten used to being able to recycle the glass – they've come to expect it," Brodie said.

"Without being able to put it in your blue box, I think people by and large won't take it to the depot – they'll put it in the trash. It just seems to me to be a big step backward."

New packaging types that would be accepted in blue boxes are to include coffee cups, gable-top containers, aseptic cartons used for soup and soy milk, empty aerosol containers, aluminum foil containers, microwavable paper containers, various takeout food containers and plant pots. For more info see multimaterialbc.ca.

Not all packaging types will be collected and recycled – MMBC says laminate plastics currently have no viable market and will instead be landfilled or incinerated.

But producers of those packages will still have to pay fees to support the system.

Time is getting tight to put the program together.

Langdon said MMBC hopes for speedy approval of the recently revised stewardship plan by the provincial government within weeks.

The agency has just over a year to strike deals with cities to continue blue box collection or else hire other contractors, line up processors and carry out much more preparatory work in advance of the new system's rollout.

"We already feel as of this date today were working under a compressed schedule."

The new system, expected to cost industry partners $60 to $100 million annually,  aims to raise recycling rates for packaging and printed paper from between 50 and 57 per cent across B.C. to at least 75 per cent.

The packaging stewardship program is the latest in the province's efforts to make industry groups take back and deal with the waste they generate.

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