It has been a long wait for Lethbridge residents to receive their blue bins as the curbside recycling program finally rolls out this month.
But with trouble brewing in the industry, has the city’s commitment to recycling come too late?
“This material that used to be valuable, now we have to pay to have someone take it away,” said Keith Brooks, program director with Environmental Defence, an environmental advocacy group.
“Something that used to be a source of revenue is now a cost.”
For many years, Canada has relied heavily on shipping recyclables to foreign markets for sorting. But last year, China and several other countries put a stop to that, deciding to no longer accept certain types of paper, plastic and low quality materials.
“This is not a temporary thing, and if you don’t adapt and modify your facilities and maybe refocus the materials that you actually collect that can be recycled, you’re going to be in trouble,” said Francis Veilleux, president of the Bluewater Recycling Association.
However, officials with the City of Lethbridge say they are confident these struggles won’t impact the local recycling program.
“There is a benefit of coming late into the program,” said Joel Sanchez, manager of waste and recycling with the City of Lethbridge.
“We have been looking at all of the changes, all the materials that are now being problematic to recycle and we took those away from our program.”
Sanchez added that the city has already secured deals with several markets across North America to repurpose all recyclables collected with the curbside program.
“Aluminium and metal will be done locally, so we have a local recycle broker that takes care of those materials — all the plastics, they are also currently going to a local processor in Alberta.”
Sanchez said there is also talk of more plastic recycling companies setting up operations in Alberta in the near future to help with increasing demand. However, in case those deals fall through, Sanchez added that the city has other U.S markets secured to take any remaining plastic materials the curbside recycling program may produce.
The city has also secured a multi-year contract to repurpose cardboard materials collected through the program.
“We have secured a deal with Recycle America, they are the biggest broker in the United States and Canada,” Sanchez said.
“They probably move around 50 to 60 per cent of recycled materials today.”
Chris Nielsen, the owner of DBS Envirnomental, a local waste management plant, added that the new program will allow more companies like his own to domestically process and sort the materials before sending them off to foreign markets — in turn, helping Lethbridge catch up to international demands.
“This is a whole extension of a very dormant industry, especially in Alberta, and it’s a great way to do economic development,” Nielsen said.
The program officially begins in Lethbridge this month, with a first collection date of May 14, 2019.