November 18, 2019

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Recyclables piling up since fire at Emterra plant

Mountains of recyclables are piling up outside the Emterra Environmental plant on Henry Avenue, making the property an eyesore.

"(It) looks like a landfill," said Angela Anderson, founder of Journey to Zero Waste Winnipeg.

Since an Aug. 8 fire, recyclables have been dumped around Emterra's Henry Ave. plant into piles higher than the trucks they’re carted in on.

TESSA VANDERHART / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Since an Aug. 8 fire, recyclables have been dumped around Emterra's Henry Ave. plant into piles higher than the trucks they’re carted in on.

On Aug. 8, rubbish on a conveyor belt at one of the Emterra buildings caught fire. It was extinguished before the conveyor belt load reached the second building, the city said in a release. The fire has put a wrench into sorting operations.

Repairs are ongoing, and "staff are working diligently to return the plant to normal operations," the city spokesperson said. 

Since the fire, recyclables have been dumped around the plant into piles that are higher than the trucks they’re carted in on. The mounds are stacked up along the back and sides of the property. Trucks that arrived on Thursday afternoon dumped their loads onto the piles. 

"The plant is still operational and recycling that’s come in since last week is being processed — even at a slower pace right now," the spokesperson said. 

Recyclables continue to be picked up. The interim solution is stacking what's collected until it can be dealt with, the spokesperson said.

Trucks continue to drop off loads of recyclable materials behind Emterra Environmental on Henry Avenue in Winnipeg, Thursday.

TESSA VANDERHART / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Trucks continue to drop off loads of recyclable materials behind Emterra Environmental on Henry Avenue in Winnipeg, Thursday.

"This material will be moved inside as soon as possible and processed as usual into marketable recycling commodities," the spokesperson said.

The mounds of recyclable items stacked like garbage show why it’s important to cut down on consumerism, Anderson said. "Recycling certainly is not the answer to the waste problem."

Next door, Punjab Auto owner Zubair Muhammad said he’s seen piles such as these accumulate in the past, but said it doesn’t bother him.

Emterra’s contract with the city expires Oct. 1, which is when a new state-of-the-art recycling plant is due to open. Canada Fibers has been signed to a 10-year, $112.6-million contract and is building the new plant. 

Canada’s recycling industry has been struggling for more than a year since China started refusing to buy contaminated shipments.

Winnipeg has been selling paper for recycling at a loss, the city has told the Free Press.

As time goes on, it's getting more challenging to move recyclables, said Recycling Council of British Columbia CEO Brock Macdonald.

"A lot of things were going to China that really shouldn’t have been," he said. 

Canada's also hamstrung by packaging, Macdonald said. 

"I think the biggest problem is there’s not really a market for some of these materials." - Recycling Council of British Columbia CEO Brock Macdonald

"I think the biggest problem is there’s not really a market for some of these materials," he said. "It’s not Canadians’ fault... we import a lot of goods. And those goods have a lot of components to them." 

B.C. can still ship recycling to Chinese markets, he said — because of a provincewide approach that results in less contaminated garbage.

In Manitoba, extended producer responsibility covers 80 per cent of the cost of recycling. In B.C., an industry group actually oversees recycling.

"It’s no longer the responsibility of local government to do this, it’s all up to the producers," he said.

Smaller markets such as Vietnam and India have been opening up, but a bigger problem remains: Canadian provinces and municipalities have wildly different policies, both for how recycling costs are covered and packaging rules, Macdonald said. He wants to see more collaboration.

"Then we can see where we can create opportunities for economies of scale, a national approach where we’re banning materials or we’re streaming materials in a way that is sustainable, and plastics don’t end up in the ocean," Macdonald said.

tvanderhart@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @tessavanderhart

Tessa Vanderhart

Tessa Vanderhart
Reporter

Tessa Vanderhart is interested in everything, but especially local news, health policy and statistics.

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