An estimated 2,000 tonnes of plastic containers currently sitting in storage will be sent to a landfill next month, city officials announced Tuesday.
So-called clamshell containers are challenging to recycle because of the labels and adhesives used on them, which require extra washing to remove. This, coupled with changes to global recycling markets, have left limited options for recycling the plastics.
Faced with a lack of options, the City of Calgary began sorting and storing the plastic containers in September 2017 to give markets time to stabilize and officials time to explore their choices.
However, on Tuesday, the City of Calgary said all available options for the previously-stored clamshell containers have been exhausted, and as such, they’re going to the dump.
LISTEN: Lorenzo Domini of GFL Environmental and the Recycling Council of Alberta joins Zack Hewitt to discuss the challenge of recycling clamshell plastics
“This is the first time we’ve had to landfill material due to market issues, and we are just as disappointed as many Calgarians will be about this,” Sharon Howland, leader of program management with waste and recycling services, said.
“Our priority has always been to keep all recyclable materials out of the landfill. However, despite our best efforts to find a different solution, we now have to minimize the cost of storage of the backlog and focus our efforts on ensuring clamshells are recycled moving forward.
“These clamshell containers represent about one to two per cent of the annual Blue Cart tonnage,” Howland said. “While landfilling the stored clamshells is a small setback, it was important for us to focus on finding a long-term solution for all of Calgary’s clamshells.”
The cost to store the material has been $330,000.
The cost of landfilling the stored material — including unloading the storage trailers, moving the material to the landfill, burying and compaction — is $130,000.
“The total cost works out to $1.40 per blue cart household for the storage and landfilling of this material over the entire two-year period,” a news release stated.
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The City of Calgary said it worked with its recycling contractor, Cascades Recovery+, to find a “consistent and reliable” solution for the recycling of clamshell plastics with local company Merlin Plastics, which started in April.
“There is no future without recycling,” Howland said. “We have a single planet with finite resources and we need recycled materials to conserve resources and put materials back into productive use.”
According to the City of Calgary, 95 per cent of local households use their blue cart recycling bin on a regular basis.
“Our overall recycling program is still going strong with Calgarians recycling over 600 million kilograms over the last 10 years,” Howland said.
A policy change in China a few years ago dubbed “national sword” increased the quality requirements of recyclables headed to that country. The City of Calgary said that changed the market instantly, making it harder to move recycled plastics like clamshells, which is why they had to store them.
“One of the big challenges is the labels and adhesives. So there’s no regulation around the type of adhesives and labels on a container like this. They need to get it off because they need this plastic to be as pure as possible,” Howland said.
Calgary Coun. Peter Demong said he was disappointed to hear about the blue cart budget dollars spent to store clamshells.
“I certainly would have liked to have been informed prior to it getting to that kind of dollar value,” Demong said.
“We in Alberta are actually paying twice for our waste, for our recycling product. We’re paying for it at the grocery store or as a consumer for the packaging and, at the same time, you’re paying for it to be taken away.”
Experts like Tim Taylor, an earth and environment instructor at Mount Royal University, said as with plastic straws, the focus should be on reducing the use of plastic.
“It’s not an easy product to recycle… So if we can start having the conversation about how do we use less, then that’s probably a good thing,” Taylor said. “I don’t think anything is going to make a clamshell easy to recycle.”
The city has been advocating for an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program in Alberta — something other provinces use. It means the producer of a plastic product is responsible for it until its end of life.
The Government of Alberta said it’s looking into EPR and will review results from a study being done by the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.