With China closing the door on imported recyclables and recyclers in countries that still take the stuff paying less for it, cities such as Winnipeg are feeling the pinch.
"China was taking everything and giving a better return," said Mark Kinsley, the city’s supervisor of waste diversion. "Now China has said, ‘We’re getting too much crap.’"
By "crap," he means contaminated material, a problem that’s plagued all cities that recycle.
The most recent statistics for Winnipeg show 32.9 per cent of residential solid waste was diverted away from landfills in 2016, but a recycling material audit shows the level of contamination in the city’s recycling programs from July 2016 to June 2017 was more than 13 per cent.
"It’s higher now," Kinsley said. "Since then, it’s gone up as high as 18 per cent."
The amount of "crap" that was slipping into the recycling but wasn’t supposed to be there is one of the reasons China stopped taking the recyclables, he said.
Now the countries that still take recyclables, including India and Malaysia, are paying less for it, Kinsley said.
The city pays a company to handle its recycling. The company sells it and ships it to a country such as Malaysia or India. They’re willing to pay for it because they need the materials to make products.
"It’s a buyer’s market... The costs of recycling haven’t gone up, the revenue has gone down," he said. That revenue offset the city’s costs for recycling, Kinsley said.
In June, a report to Winnipeg city council will outline how much more recycling will cost the city as a result, said Kinsley, who couldn’t divulge those numbers ahead of time.
In a world where people keep making more things from paper and plastic and throwing them away, recycling is the right thing to do, he said.
"It keeps things out of the landfill and it makes resources go further."
Winnipeg’s recycling woes would be lessened if residents stopped buying so much stuff that’s wrapped in wasteful packaging, and quit their "wishful recycling" or "wish-cycling," Bethany Daman said.
"One of the key things we talk about is being extremely conscious of the things you’re bringing into your house," said Daman, the "living green, living well" co-ordinator at Winnipeg’s Green Action Centre. "A lot of waste is packaging," she said, railing against things such as grocery stores selling mushrooms on plastic trays covered in plastic wrap — neither of which are recyclable. The centre is urging people to cut out single-use products such as disposable coffee cups and plastic cutlery, especially during "Plastic-free July."
Daman wants to stop all the "wish-cycling" — the belief that "if we put it in there, maybe it will get recycled."
She said dirty diapers, plastic bags, and unrinsed paper and plastic food containers with congealed leftovers inside aren’t recyclable and can cause problems if they’re put in recycling bins.
"It goes back to the education side," Daman said. "Make sure you’re not contaminating your bin" by including things like gunky containers that slop all over newsprint and cardboard.
That’s part of what prompted China to slam the door on imported recyclables, Kinsley said. China’s recent refusal to take them initiated a "huge shift" in where cities can send their stuff and highlighted the importance of uncontaminated collection, he said.
"People need to be more knowledgeable and diligent with what they’re recycling. Winnipeggers need to know what’s on our ‘acceptable’ list."
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.
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