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Recycling shakeup may end curbside pickup of glass

Glass may be excluded from blue box pickup if an industry-led stewardship group gets its way. - File
Glass may be excluded from blue box pickup if an industry-led stewardship group gets its way.
— image credit: File

Curbside pickup of glass jars and bottles may be axed from a pending reform of the blue box recycling system, forcing households to take glass to depots instead.

Members of Metro Vancouver's zero waste committee were dismayed when told by staff Thursday of the proposal by Multi Material BC to eliminate glass collection at curbside after the industry-led stewardship agency takes charge of the residential recycling system in mid-2014.

"Whose idea was that?" demanded Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, the committee chair. "That's going to be a big problem."

He and other mayors predict residents will just throw glass in the garbage if it's no longer picked up from homes at curbside.

"If people have to take their jars to a depot, they're just going to throw them away."

Multi Material BC chair Allen Langdon said curbside-collected glass breaks and contaminates other higher value recyclables, such as newsprint, paper and plastics, degrading their value.

"No decisions have been made, nothing has been finalized," he said, adding Multi Material BC is taking comment on the proposed change to exclude glass until March 1.

Langdon said most glass – about 71,000 tonnes a year province-wide – already makes its way to processing via depots because of refundable deposits.

Only an estimated 2,500 tonnes of glass now gets picked up through blue boxes, he said.

And he said the curbside-collected glass arrives too contaminated to be recycled into more glass – there is no glass-recycling plant in B.C. anyway – and typically is used only for road aggregate or cover at landfills.

"If the glass is taken out, we actually think it will have a positive impact in helping us to recycle more material," Langdon said.

The Nanaimo and Central Okanagan regional districts already have depot-only glass drop off and don't want to be forced to add it to curbside pickup programs.

The change would be an advantage for Surrey, where residents are on single-stream recycling. Homes there don't sort recyclables but jumble them all in the same blue box and they're sorted at a highly automated plant.

Glass contamination of other materials is a bigger risk under such single-stream systems than in ones where residents separate streams, Langdon said, adding the switch would improve the amount and value of other material being recycled.

Langdon said Multi Material BC takes no position on whether single-stream recycling is better, adding cities that act as contractors would be free to continue with either system.

Critics say that because glass is one of the lowest value recyclables, a depot-only system that makes it harder for residents to return it will cut curbside collection costs and save the industry group money – but at a cost to the environment.

"They're just high grading," Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said. "They're just trying to pick out what's worth the most money out of the box."

Corrigan said the intent of the new system should be to maximize recycling, not focus on saving industry members money by cutting corners on usability.

Multi Material BC, which includes retailers, grocers, restaurants and newspapers, is a non-profit agency charged by the province with formulating a stewardship plan to collect and recycle all types of packaging and printed materials – including everything that now goes in blue boxes plus package types not currently collected.

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

Multi Material BC intends to offer collection contracts first to cities or local recycling societies that already do it. If they don't accept the price the agency offers, it would seek other contractors, or set up its own fleet of trucks to pick up material.

Cities have previously complained Multi Material BC's system may supplant local blue box pickup programs without covering the historic costs of existing truck fleets and infrastructure.

 

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