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Swimming in plastic: How Metro Vancouver handles its own recycling

WATCH: With foreign countries rejecting our plastic waste, companies in British Columbia are tackling the problem locally. As Aaron McArthur explains, dealing with our own recycling has helped spawn a new industry in this province.

The yard at Bumper Now in Burnaby is something to behold: nine thousand automobile bumpers waiting to be re-manufactured for the auto body industry.

The stacks of parts represent just a fraction of the bumpers that end up at the company. It also represents the unique way recycling works in Metro Vancouver.

Until recently, most of the bumpers were a waste product. Before China banned almost all plastics from overseas markets, Bumper Now would ship hundreds of pieces a month for recycling.

WATCH: (Aired June 26) Household plastics: one family’s tally

Household plastics: one family’s tally
Household plastics: one family’s tally

Without access to the Chinese market, the owners realized they needed to do something. Not only did they have an ever growing pile of plastics, but they knew shipping it offshore was the wrong thing to do.

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So they took the plunge and invested in a granulator.

READ MORE: Swimming in plastic: One B.C. man’s battle with recycling in his own home

The company now grinds up thousands of kilograms of plastic a month. The material they produce is sold to manufacturers across North America that are looking to add recycled material to their packaging.

The extra revenue stream has been so significant, the owners of Bumper Now say they are expanding.

“We recently purchased a new lot where we plan to expand our recycling operation,” co-owner Bash Jamal said. “We want to expand into other plastics. We think there is a real need to keep this recycling thing going.”

WATCH: Questions about federal ban on single-use plastics

Questions about federal ban on single-use plastics
Questions about federal ban on single-use plastics

Bumper Now is just one example of how local companies are taking responsibility for the waste stream.

Metro Vancouver is unique in North America, in that most of the recyclable material produced here is recycled here.

Another company, Merlin Plastics, takes in 150,000 tons of household packaging every year. The pellets it produces feed the auto industry, and other manufacturing sectors.

READ MORE: Is Canada’s recycling industry broken?

According to regional government officials, it is regulation that controls how well the recycling system operates.

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“Our success is based on extended producer responsibility,” the region’s vice chair of the Zero Waste Committee Craig Hodge said.

“We require the producers of the material to be responsible for its collection and its disposal. The other key to this equation is the material bans Metro Vancouver places on our landfills.”

READ MORE: Trudeau eyeing a Canadian ban on single-use plastics by 2021

There are still soft spots in terms of recycling and waste diversion. People who live in condos tend to recycle less than homeowners, and different municipalities have different waste contractors with different pick-up rules.

The end result is the region is still well short of its goal of having 80 per cent of material being diverted from landfills by 2020.

But the horror story in other jurisdictions — of items placed in the blue bins and then ending up in the dump — rarely happens in Metro Vancouver.

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