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Bullets, bear spray, butane mixed into recycling, putting workers at risk: Recycle BC

WATCH: Explosive devices cause concern for B.C. recyclers

The organization that handles recycling in B.C. is sounding the alarm about a spike in dangerous materials being improperly mixed in.

A 2019 audit of materials found two-thirds of container loads had hazardous materials in them, says Recycle BC ⁠— up 47 per cent from five years ago.

READ MORE: Is Canada’s recycling industry broken?

“We’re seeing flares road flares, marine flares, lithium ion batteries from cell phones and computers, small propane tanks, butane tanks from the warm weather we’re having, also bear spray and some ammunition,” said Alisa Murray, Health and Safety Coordinator at Cascades Recovery.

In fact, in one recent case a local resident put 58 rounds of live ammo in their recycling, according to Recycle BC.

Some of the ammunition found mixed into recycling at a B.C. facility.
Some of the ammunition found mixed into recycling at a B.C. facility. Recycle BC

In another case in July, a can of bear mace mixed into recycling was crushed by a fork lift in Surrey, causing breathing problems for several employees and forcing the evacuation of the facility.

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“This week, on Tuesday, we actually had an incident where we were bailing up some of the fiber and we smelled something,” said Murray. “We shut down the baler, did our due diligence as a precaution, and we opened up the bale and we found a burned, compressed lithium ion battery in there, smouldering.”

READ MORE: Canadians should recycle 85% of plastics by 2025, environmental groups say 

Receiving facilities across the province have experienced seven “significant” fires in the last six months, said Recycle BC spokesperson Dave Lefebvre.

He encouraged anyone who is unsure whether their waste is recyclable to contact the Recycling Council of British Columbia.

“They have answers for the majority of these materials,” he said. “They can tell you if it can go in the blue bin, or they can tell you where to dispose of it properly.”

READ MORE: The biggest recycling mistakes Canadians continue to make

Recycle BC says the increase in hazardous materials creates a real risks of fires and explosions due to the presence of large amounts of paper and other flammable materials in its facilities putting workers in very real danger.

The organization is reminding the public never to put the following materials in with recycling:

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  • Butane and propane canisters
  • Batteries (especially lithium-ion batteries)
  • Compressed gases
  • Ammunition
  • Knives
  • Sharps
  • Bear spray