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Tuesday, 30 January 2018 05:35

Alberta tries to find new recycling solutions

Written by  Demi Knight
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Alberta is reconsidering the way they recycle this new year, as China’s reinforced restrictions on buying certain paper and plastics sparks the conversation, ‘are we conscious enough of our waste?’   

Christina Seidel, Executive Director of Recycling Council of Alberta, says that with our current system seeing many low-grade and mixed recycled materials being collected by each municipality within the province before being sold to foreign markets such as China, we may have taken advantage of these foreign markets, and that China becoming fed up with receiving mixed recyclables may be the wake-up call that the province needs to take a better look at our flawed system.
“It’s a wake-up call that we need to take a look on what we’re producing and maybe require systemic changes and produce higher grade materials,” added Seidel. “China was one of the outlets that we could ship mixed grade materials to and they then sorted it there, but we abused that a little bit and we sent them a lot of low value stuff, so they got really fussy about what they are taking in and are now making a statement that they want to clean up their industry.” 
It was 2013 when China first launched a customs program called ‘Operation Green fence’ which had intentions of increasing the quality of the environment by reducing waste importation and contamination in recyclable materials. On Jan. 1 of 2018, this initiative moved into a new phase called the ‘National Sword’ which banned the import of some recyclable materials and lowers contamination rates for materials that will still be accepted by the country, meaning many places, including the Province of Alberta may see a change in the way they recycle going forward.
However, although this change in policy may affect the volume of recyclables collected by municipalities that cannot as they stand be sold to foreign markets such as China, Seidel added that hope is not lost, and that this is simply a matter of taking a step back and finding new solutions. 
“Because it’s happening fairly quickly we’re scrambling,” says Seidel.
“But it’s not like the sky is falling, we can still send our recyclables away they just have to be of higher standard, we also have our own domestic markets and there’s also a lot of people in the industry working on coming up with alternate markets.”
Yet it seems that some areas may be affected more than others, and although some may have to adjust the way they handle their recycled products, some such as the City of Lethbridge is hoping to see minimal impact.
“At this point, we don’t believe that the Chinese National Sword (CNS) program will have a significant impact in the curbside recycling program in Lethbridge. Presently our plastics are sorted locally and utilized through a local manufacturer; our metals are recycled locally; and our paper and cardboard are shipped to various mills in North America,” says Waste and Recycling Service General Manager in Lethbridge, Joel Sanchez.
With this new policy in place, Seidel also added that the conversation has been sparked to look to other provinces within Canada and the way they handle their recyclables compared to Alberta.
The most obvious difference, Seidel says is that of other province’s having a mandate placed upon the producer of the product rather than the consumer and municipality.
With provinces such as British Columbia reaping these benefits, it gives areas the relief of the producers themselves handling the issue of recycling their products, which also in result can stimulate higher quality products.
Since each municipality within Alberta handles their own recycling, Seidel says this kind of system would work great for our province.
“What Alberta doesn’t have is extended producer responsibility, individual municipalities instead are forced to face these recycling problems on their own.
In Alberta, the smaller municipalities ship their material to larger brokers within the nearest city and they consolidate the materials there.”
“But the B.C approach gives them a lot more influence on the market, because they collect them on a provincial basis, which means they have higher taxability and end with higher quality output.”
However, this isn’t the first time Alberta has faced a problem like this, in fact, Seidel says the Recycling Council of Alberta have been pushing a change in the way things are done for a long time, and that converting to a system like other provinces that puts producers in the hot seat of paying for these programs has been a change that they have wanted implemented for a while.
However, with no government action to change the system, the new policy may be the push needed to re-evaluate the recycling norm.
With no specific plans in place industry professionals have taken to looking both into the extensive domestic markets available that could be utilized further to help grow the economy as well as looking elsewhere into other available international markets for other products they may have.  While this new policy may pose an immediate issue to certain municipalities throughout Alberta, Sanchez says it may also be a good time to take the opportunity to better the industry.
“We are fully aware of this initiative by the Chinese government and have been working in the past months with organizations in Canada and the US to review the impact and opportunities that this represents for the waste and recycling industry.”

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