Alberta recycling industry adapts to China’s new policy on importing recycle waste

Alberta recycling industry adapts to new Chinese policy on importing recycle waste
WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton may be a leader when it comes to recycling, but is our effort to be green clean enough? New standards from one of the city's biggest buyers of recycled goods means some changes. Vinesh Pratap reports.

Less than four weeks after China implemented tough new standards on what foreign recycling waste it would import, Alberta recyclers say they are working to adjust. They also say the financial impact of China’s new policy on bottom lines here remains to be seen.

“I understand where China’s coming from,” Brad Schultz, director of operations with Alberta Recycling Management Authority (ARMA), told Global News on Friday. “At our end, (we) need to be more responsible.

“We need to make sure we’re sending a clean commodity. It can’t be contaminated,” he said, adding contaminated recyclables result in residuals going into China’s wastestream.

The new quality standards took effect on Jan. 1. They stipulate that recycling waste materials will only be accepted by China if the material is not contaminated with other waste products. Contamination rates cannot exceed 0.5 per cent for recyclers looking to export material to China. Previously, that was 1.5 per cent.

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Schultz said ARMA deals in higher-end waste recyclables that will generally not be affected by the new Chinese rules. ARMA collects the fees Albertan consumers pay on electronics, paint and paint pails and tires and then spends the revenue it gets from fees to ensure items in those categories are properly recycled.

READ MORE: Chinese ban on foreign recycling won’t affect B.C.: industry

“The plastics that come out of electronics and the empty plastic paint pails are a high-grade plastic,” he said. “So, there’s value in that and it can be molded into new products but the way the program is structured, you cannot ship this plastic directly to an offshore country — China.

“What happens is it’s bailed from the people that recycle it — that are associated with the program — and then they ship it to a downstreamer where it’s further processed into a flake, a chip, a pallet. So it becomes a commodity or it can be molded into a new product. ”

Trent Tompkins, director for waste collection services with the City of Edmonton, described somewhat more of an impact for the city’s recycling operations.

Tompkins describes China as “one of the biggest customers for what people put in the blue bag.”

READ MORE: Danielle Smith: Canada needs to change recycling approach to find new markets

As a result, the city must ensure the materials it ships to China (for example, newspaper) is only newspaper and not mixed with cardboard or metal etc.

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“Because of the changes… the city’s waste management centre has added an extra shift,” Tompkins said. The additional resources are being managed within the existing budget, for now.

“That means we’re taking extra care to process material to slow our line down a little bit to add some sorters,” he added. “To make sure that we’re producing the cleanest product possible.”

READ MORE: Chinese ban on recycled material from the West having little impact in Peterborough

Tompkins estimates the city generates between $3 million and $6 million from selling recyclables. It’s estimated about 90 per cent of Edmontonians are diligent about recycling.

It’s still not clear what will happen if the city begins accumulating more recycled waste than it can handle as a result of China’s new policy, however, early on, the situation hasn’t reached that point yet and it’s not clear if it even will at all.

“Part of our strategy now is to make sure we’re diversifying where the materials are going and finding a market for everything,” Tompkins said.