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Fundy Regional Service Commission to stop recycling plastic bags

Recycling discarded plastic bags becoming an issue in southern New Brunswick
WATCH: The Fundy Regional Service Commission, which handles waste management in southern N.B., is facing a problem in dealing with plastic bags. Travis Fortnum explains.

Beginning March 1, the Fundy Regional Service Commission will no longer accept plastic bags as recycling.

The commission handles recycling for Saint John, Quispamsis, Rothesay, Grand Bay-Westfield and a number of other communities in the area.

An employee sorts through recycling.
An employee sorts through recycling. Travis Fortnum

Most of what they collect is taken to the Crane Mountain Waste Management Facility, where it’s sorted and sold to companies who put the recycled materials to use.

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According to Brenda MacCallum, with the commission’s public relations department, the market for recycled plastic bags just isn’t there.

“For the past two years we’ve been trying to find an end market for plastic bags,” MacCallum says. “We have not.”

READ MORE: Moncton students support ban on single-use plastic bags

MacCallum says the commission doesn’t see the situation changing in the near future, and has already collected more bags than they know what to do with.

“We have two years’ worth, which is about 40 tons, bailed and sitting in a warehouse.”

Some of the sorted and bailed plastic bags the commission has on hand.
Some of the sorted and bailed plastic bags the commission has on hand. Travis Fortnum

After the March 1 cutoff, plastic bags, wrap and similar materials will need to be thrown in the trash, then a landfill.

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“This decision is not a decision we come to easily,” says MacCallum. “It’s a tough decision.”

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“We don’t want to say ‘continue recycling your plastic bags’ when we’re not certain that they’re ever going to find a home.”

The commission hopes residents will use this as motivation to cut down their personal usage of single-use plastics.

Plastics at the Crane Mountain Waste Management Facility to be sorted.
Plastics at the Crane Mountain Waste Management Facility to be sorted. Travis Fortnum

The decision was made at a Fundy Regional Service Commission meeting in December, with notice going out to the affected communities this week.

In a time when searching for climate change solutions is on many minds, it came as a shock to some – including members of Quispamsis Town Council.

“It was a little bit of a surprise to me,” says Libby O’Hara, the town’s Deputy Mayor. “The fact that they set March 1 as a deadline date to say ‘we are not accepting these any longer in our recycle bins’, that was a little bit too ambitious to me.”

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Libby O’Hara, Quispamsis Deputy Mayor, sits on the town’s Climate Change Council.
Libby O’Hara, Quispamsis Deputy Mayor, sits on the town’s Climate Change Council. Travis Fortnum

O’Hara also sits on the town’s Climate Change Council. She says they’ve been working towards a ban on single-use plastics in the town, as well as lobbying the province to push for one across the board.

“It takes time to roll these things out,” O’Hara says.

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The commission agrees with the banning of plastic bags, but remains firm on their March 1 deadline.

“For it to be reopened,” MacCallum explains, “you need new information to come forward. So that would be something like a new market for plastic bags.”

Plastic waste inside Crane Mountain Waste Management Facility.
Plastic waste inside Crane Mountain Waste Management Facility. Travis Fortnum

As for the stockpile they have now, with no end-market in sight, the gathering and sorting may have all been for nothing.

“The last thing we do want to do is put it in the landfill,” MacCallum says, “but we may be forced to if we can’t find an end for it.

“That’s why we need to stop it now.”

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