Strathcona County is asking its residents to toss in the garbage many plastics they would normally put in blue recycling bags.
The change is reflective of international pressures in the recycling economy, when it comes to plastic film. About six months ago, China shut its doors to accepting roughly half of the world’s plastic waste.
“There’s no markets for them because there’s no end use for those products,” said Jeff Hutton, Strathcona County’s Director of Utilities. “Changes are coming from overseas, where typically recyclables end up to be processed into other materials.”
As of September 10, items like sandwich bags, plastic clam-shells from berries or baking, as well as paper cups will no longer be accepted in the county’s blue bag recycling program.
Staff are hoping residents start making the changes now.
“It does feel a little bit like a step back,” Hutton admitted.
This issue is affecting municipalities across North America, and cities like Edmonton are also debating how to deal with the problem.
There are a few other changes coming too. Glass will not be accepted in blue bags either. That now has to be brought to the enviroservice station.
Any items that do go into the blue bins have to be thoroughly washed, otherwise the entire bag could end up in the landfill.
“We need the right things in the bag and they need to be clean enough so that they actually can be recycled,” Hutton said.
The problem with China
For decades, Canada and other developed countries had been selling their waste plastic to China, where it was sorted, cleaned, processed and re-used in the country’s massive manufacturing industry.
That all changed on Jan. 1, 2018, when China began refusing shipments of a wide variety of plastic waste products, including plastic contaminated by foreign materials such as food or fabric.
Waste industry experts say they’d been expecting the shift for years, as China’s economy has improved and it can no longer pay “dollar-a-day” wages for workers to sort plastic waste by hand. However, it still struck a major blow to the industry, cutting off the No. 1 destination for plastic recyclables in the world.
Industry experts say China shut its doors because it simply doesn’t need the materials anymore. Its economy is growing out of a purely manufacturing-based society, and its citizens are producing enough plastic waste of their own that there’s no need to buy it from other countries.
That’s left many countries in a bind, including Canada, where waste disposal is handled on a municipal and regional level.
Strathcona County residents adapting to change
Back in Strathcona County, residents were learning more about the new rules at Trash Fest on Wednesday evening.
Heidi Gehmlich said it’s important to teach her children where their waste goes.
“We’ve rarely ever had a full garbage bin. That’s just because we recycle everything.”
The changes have her concerned.
“Our recycle bin will basically have half the amount that it has now and that will just add to our garbage bin.”
Gehmlich said she understands the dilemma the county is facing though.
“If we don’t have facilities that properly dispose of those kind of plastics, then there’s nothing that we can do.”
Pauline Stepanick said the new rules will impact her choices as a consumer.
“I think it’s going to make me make better decisions when I’m buying products. Knowing that they’re not recycling yogurt containers or berry containers. Try and think more proactively.”
At the end of the day, Strathcona County hopes the changes encourage consumers to consider reusing plastics and reducing waste by purchasing items with less packaging.
WATCH: By 2050, the plastics in our oceans could weigh more than fish. So what’s Canada doing about it? Abigail Bimman takes a look at the plans domestically and internationally.
— With files from Josh K. Elliott, Global News