China’s forthcoming import ban on recyclable materials could impact the Halifax government’s budget by more than a million of dollars, and the company that processes the materials has asked the Nova Scotia government for permission to dump plastic bags in a landfill.
The municipality’s paper and plastic recyclable materials have been mainly sent to China. Of the government’s $2,166,000 recycling revenues in the prior fiscal year, $1,660,000 derived from selling materials to the country.
“We can expect that to go to little or nothing,” Matthew Keliher, manager for the municipality’s solid waste department, said on Wednesday regarding future sales to China.
Plastic bags, newspapers, and other recyclables will no longer be accepted by China in the country’s effort to better protect its environment. In all, 24 kinds of imported solid waste will be banned.
Part of the problem is that of the materials the country will still accept, the reduced maximum amount of contamination the materials can have is too tough for the municipality to achieve, Keliher said.
The information report (PDF) on the matter was attached to the Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee meeting dated Nov. 2. It pegged China as a global leader in regards to recycling materials from western countries.
“I’d say all municipalities, states, provincial governments, and federal governments within North America, and the world for that matter, that do have active recycling programs are impacted by the China ban,” Keliher said.
Miller Waste Systems processes and sells Halifax’s recyclable materials. Because a new recipient hasn’t been found, the amount of plastic film (grocery bags, shrink wrap, etc.) collected is nearing its storage limit.
The company asked for permission from Nova Scotia Environment on Aug. 30 for the go-ahead to dump the plastic in a Green For Life (GFL) landfill.
“It’s the absolute last resort, and we will try our best to find every possible market we can for these materials,” Keliher said.
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If the province doesn’t allow it, space will have to be found to continue storing it.
“Plastic film is banned from disposal in Nova Scotia Landfills. The Department is aware of the market challenges created by Chinese import restrictions, and we are currently reviewing the disposal request by GFL. The department will be making a decision early in the new year,” Chrissy Matheson, a provincial government spokesperson, said in an email on Monday.
Mixed plastic products, which include thermoform products (clamshell packaging, etc.), black plastic, and other unsorted plastics are being burned to convert to energy at a Lafarge plant in Quebec as part of a pilot project, Keliher said.
Arrangements have been made to process most of the materials impacted by China’s changes. He said he expects the municipality to earn significantly less on the sales of recyclable material because of the impact the ban is having on the market.
“This is a wake-up call,” Mark Butler, policy director of the Ecology Action Centre, said on Tuesday.
He said that this situation highlights the vulnerability the municipality put itself in by relying so much on one country, along with the need for extended producer responsibility.
“I make a new product, I come up with some fancy packaging that I think is cool, but it actually can’t be recycled. Who has to deal with it? The taxpayer. So put it back on the company that makes the initial product,” Butler said.
It takes about three months for ships to transport Halifax’s recyclable materials to China. Keliher said that there is a risk that some material on its way may be rejected if it doesn’t get there by Jan. 1, 2018.