Citizens taking action ~ Vancouver, Lower Mainland, and beyond.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Let's give our recyclers resources instead of garbage

Last week I joined a small group of Port Moody citizens on a tour of Emterra, a local company that sorts the materials collected in single-stream" recycling programs. It was a very sad experience.
The people at Emterra were really nice.
Nevil and Mohamed took us through the entire process, from the "tipping floor" to the bales of plastic and paper that the plant ships off to manufacturers. They let us take photos (very unusual!). They answered all our questions.
They are proud of what they do. They freely admit there are challenges, but they are working hard and "thinking innovatively" to find solutions.
But I think they've been dealt an impossible hand.
Emterra's problem is that they have two customers they have to please, and the needs of these customers are totally contradictory.
One customer is cities. The Mayors of cities like Port Moody, Surrey, Langley and Port Coquitlam -- and hosts of others across Canada and the US -- are insisting that recycling must be "convenient." They tell their citizens not to bother to recycle materials -- and demand that Emterra transform their waste into resources.
The other customer is manufacturers. Paper mills don't have much latitude when it comes to the quality of materials they can use. They can tolerate very small percentages of "out-throws" (the wrong kind of paper) and only a tiny percentage of "prohibitives" (like plastic bags and lettuce boxes) in the paper they use. Paper making equipment is expensive. Downtime to fix it is expensive. Our paper mills are already suffering because of the recession. That's why most of Emterra's dirty paper is going overseas.
Where is the fix? Manufacturers have very little latitude. How hard is it for us to recycle paper and containers separately?
The most successful recycling program in North America is the beverage container deposit program that keeps containers separate. Despite the hassle of separating containers, deposits recycle twice as many containers as curbside recycling programs -- and keep the materials in good condition.
A cash refund trumps "convenience" every time. If we're serious about building a strong recycling industry, let's give the industry resources instead of waste.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Campaign for Real Recycling - let's start with milk containers

Yesterday we launched phase one of a Campaign for Real Recycling.

We're fighting back against companies that are trying to hijack recycling by passing off dumbed-down recycling as the real thing.

Worse, they're calling it EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility).

We've been tracking the spread of dumbed-down recycling on this blog (read these past posts from the bottom up).

The issue is urgent right now in British Columbia because producers of throw-away packaging have organized themselves into a lobby group that is proposing "EPR for packaging" that is classic dumbed-down recycling.

"Multi-Materials BC" is seeking the provincial government's approval to set up a single, province-wide dumbed-down recycling program that they will control. A growing number of us who are paying attention are really worried.

The first local meeting to "consult with the public" about all this is at 10:00 am on Thursday, October 13th.

Multi-Materials BC is proposing a "multi-material" recycling program that allows you to mix different kinds of materials together. Once the materials have left your curb (and been counted as "recycled"), they are crushed together in a truck, dumped on a cement floor, shoved around with a front-end-loader and dumped on a moving conveyor belt. Workers grab things that might be recognizable as recyclable commodities (though they are degraded by being mixed with other materials) and what they don't grab (amounting to as much as 40% of the mix) falls off the conveyor into the garbage.

This approach is favoured by producers of stuff that is hard to recycle, because their stuff gets credit for being recycled even though it ends up in the landfill or incinerator.

It is favoured by producers of stuff that is easy to recycle, because most of these companies are more interested in selling new stuff than taking care of their old stuff.

It is favoured by garbage companies, because it allows them to do what they've always done: haul large loads of worthless stuff and get paid for it.

It is even favoured by many of our well-intentioned local governments, because they are trying to save up-front municipal costs and simplify things for citizens.

It is based on the demeaning view that people are lazy and won't bother to do recycling right so you have to give them a program that is all about "convenience" rather than doing things right.

But we have one program here in BC that proves them wrong. The deposit system for beverage containers contradicts all the rules of dumbed down recycling.

It keeps materials separate, so they can be recycled into the highest-value markets. It exposes the hard-to-recycle materials and puts pressure on producers to improve their products (remember the old HDPE base cups on 2-litre PET pop bottles? Gone, because they made it hard to recycle.)

It proves that *incentives* work better than convenience to motivate people to recycle.

Deposits get up to 95% of targeted containers back -- double or triple the rate of "convenient" dumbed-down recycling services.

That's why we're calling for refundable deposits on milk containers.

Not only will putting milk in the deposit system get back more containers, in better condition, than any dumbed down recycling program.

It will deprive dumbed-down recycling of a victory. One hundred and forty million milk containers that are sold each year in BC wil create jobs, provide income supplements, and offer kids fundraising opportunities in our communities before going to high-value recycling markets -- all at no expense to the taxpayer.

Who could be against that? Sign on and lend your voice to the campaign against dumbed-down recycling.

Pic: The Campaign for Real Recycling,
Read about our launch on News1130.