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The way of all trash

Here's what happens to your blue box contributions

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/7/2010 (2601 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeggers are reluctant recyclers -- among the worst if the not THE worst in Canada. And there's a lingering myth that much of what's dutifully tossed in blue boxes really gets dumped at the landfill in the dark of night. That's true in one case -- bottles -- but it's rather remarkable where your recyclables really go and what they become. Here's a snapshot:


Here’s what happens to your blue box contributions

Here’s what happens to your blue box contributions


That box of Rice Krispies you opened up this morning is probably part Winnipeg Free Press.

In May, the biggest buyer of good-quality newsprint was RockTenn, a major American paper producer that bought 956 tons of old papers from Winnipeg for about $85,000. RockTenn's Minnesota vice-president Dave Briere said that newsprint is turned into rolls of boxboard at the company's St. Paul plant that are eventually turned into cracker boxes, cereal boxes, rice boxes and the like. All the big food firms, like Kellogg's and General Mills, buy from RockTenn's plants.

There's actually a healthy market for good quality newsprint, so Winnipeg sells it to several buyers every month, including firms in Thunder Bay and Quebec.


Newsprint sold

In one year (2009) -- 14,118 tons

In one month (May 2010) -- 2,096 tons


COKE CAN (Anheuser-Busch's recycling plant, in Georgetown, KY)

Old beer cans pretty much turn into new beer cans. Anheuser-Busch, one of the US's biggest beer-makers, gets the occasional bail of aluminum cans from Winnipeg at its recycling centre in the American South. The beer-maker then makes sure the bundles are totally free from contaminants like paper or plastic and then sends them to one of its primary mills for smelting. The old cans are turned it into can sheet that's then used for new cans, a process that uses 95 percent less energy than starting from scratch with bauxite ore.

The city gets few cans any more. They have been largely replaced in stores by bigger plastic pop bottles, and the cans that do end up in the blue boxes often get picked out by scavengers.


Aluminium cans sold

In one year (2009) -- 123 tons

In one month (April 2010) -- 13 tons (none sold in May)


PICKLE JAR (Brady Road)

It's a pickle, to be sure. Most beer bottles make their way back to the depot for a deposit, but many other glass containers end up in the landfill. They are crushed and used as road fill instead of gravel, which saves the city money but isn't a very green solution.

"If there was a company around Southern Manitoba that would take it, that would be great," said Darryl Drohomerski, the city's solid waste boss.

Problem is, most glass recyclers want separated bottles -- no greens mixed with clears mixed with browns, and no paper labels mixed in. If the bottles were separated, there's a better chance the city could find a niche buyer for each kind, but even then, recycling glass is a tough go financially.


Glass sent to the landfill

In one year (2009) -- 5,683 tons

In one month (May 2010) -- 583 tons


MILK JUG (Ekman plant in Minneapolis)

You might be sitting on one now, getting a tan.

Odds are, your sour-smelling milk jug is now a floating dock, marine piling, pier or decking.

Winnipeg's empty milk jugs, one of the best grades of plastic second only to water and pop bottles, are sometimes sent to a Calgary firm but more often to Ekman, a 350-year-old Swedish mega-company that trades pulp, paper and packaging.

In May, Winnipeg sold two trailer loads to Ekman. An Ontario-based trader with the company said he would love to buy more.

Winnipeg's jugs are mixed in with jugs from all over Canada and the Midwest, melted down into pellets and sold to a company that moulds the plastic composite into dock parts, which stand up better to water and salt than wood.

Milk Jugs Sold

In one year (2009) -- 329 tons

In one month (May, 2010) 31 tons



Those are the unwanted, almost-worthless detritus of your blue box. They mostly get lost in China's industrial abyss, which is not an ideal solution.

A couple of years ago, the city couldn't even give away yogurt containers -- and all other kinds of hard plastic like detergent and salad dressing bottles. Now, yogurt containers and all other kinds of low-grade plastic are bailed up, turned over to a Vancouver-based broker and shipped to China.

It's hard to know what happens after that, but it's likely armies of low-wage Chinese workers separate out the different grades of plastic so they can be remade into hundreds of different plastic products that China then sells back to us.


# 3-7 Plastics Sold

In a year (2009) -- 4,834 tons

In a month (May, 2010) -- 368 tons (includes some stockpiled material)



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