Waste Wise | Recycling in the Cariboo: The War on Contamination

By Tera Grady –

Throughout the Cariboo, there are various recycling services in place including curbside recycling and recycling depots. With China’s strict policy on recyclables, the war on contamination in recyclable material is very important for recycling in BC. So, how do contamination rates compare through the recycling services in the Cariboo Regional District (CRD)?

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In the City of Quesnel, the curbside recycling service is directly provided by Recycle BC, the organization responsible for residential packaging and paper recycling in BC. In Williams Lake, 100 Mile House, and the 108 Mile Ranch, the associated local governments are responsible for curbside recycling services but collect the recyclables on behalf of Recycle BC.

Quesnel curbside recyclables are less contaminated when compared to curbside recyclables collected in Williams Lake, District of 100 Mile House, and the 108 Mile Ranch. The difference is that in Quesnel, blue boxes are used at the curb rather than large wheeled totes. In Quesnel the recycling collection truck driver manually picks up each blue box and empties the contents into the paper or plastic side of the split truck. When the driver sees glass, foam packaging, plastic bags, or other items that are not included in curbside collection, they are left at the curb. In the other CRD locations mentioned above, the large wheeled totes are emptied into the recycling collection truck by an automated arm. This system allows for much more contamination to enter the recyclables.

There are arguments for and against both blue boxes and wheeled totes, but, if residents who have curbside recycling were informed and attentive about how to recycle, it would not matter which system was used.

The situation is much different when it comes to recycling depots, though. Quesnel has some of the last non-controlled recycling drop-off locations in British Columbia and the contamination rates are too high to easily market the recyclables, which is the responsibility of the City of Quesnel’s recycling contractor.

All other recycling depots in the CRD are controlled sites with attendants who assist and teach residents about what is accepted at the site and how to sort their recyclables. Management (transportation, processing, and marketing) of recyclables from these controlled depots is the responsibility of Recycle BC, not local governments. The materials from these depots are not totally free of contamination, but they are significantly better than from non-controlled sites.

In January 2018, China reduced the level of contamination they accept with recyclables. China will only import the cleanest recyclable material, which makes marketing the contaminated paper and plastic recyclable materials from Quesnel’s current depots extremely challenging and costly. Recycle BC is still able to market their recyclables as their contractor Green By Nature owns and operates a plastic container recovery facility in the Lower Mainland, and Recycle BC has been able to branch out to other international mixed paper markets. Recycle BC will not take on responsibility of the recyclables generated from the current City of Quesnel depots, as they are not controlled and contain too much contamination.

There will likely be changes coming to the City of Quesnel recycling depots, as they cannot continue the way they are for much longer. The best outcome would be for Recycle BC to take on responsibility for recyclables generated from Quesnel depots. This would require consolidating the depots into one secure location and providing oversite with an attendant.

Regardless of what type of recycling system is in place, the bottom line is all types of contamination lower the quality of recyclables as a commodity. Help us continue to be able to recycle by reducing the contamination in your recycling.

Are you guilty of contamination?

There are three main types of contamination in recyclables:
1. Materials that are not accepted, like bags of garbage, clothing, garden hoses, strapping, shoes, wood items, ceramics, etc.
2. Accepted items that have been put in the wrong collection container. Glass is the most problematic in this type of contamination.
3. Recyclables that are not packaging and paper. Some examples include electronics, batteries, tires, used oil containers, hazardous waste, and propane cylinders.

Learn more by following us on Facebook at facebook.com/caribooregion, visiting us online at cariboord.ca, or looking for our Waste Wise articles in your local paper. For more information on the Waste Wise Program, call (250) 398-7929. You can also find more details on Waste Wise activities and events at ccconserv.org.

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