Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Why China’s role in the recyclable market matters to Calgary and what you can do (Hint: Keep recycling!)

There has been a lot of talk about China’s ban on foreign recyclables. But what does this mean exactly for Calgary and the Blue Cart recycling program? We break it down for you below.

What exactly is going on with recycling in China?

Materials like plastic and paper are recycled by manufacturers around the globe. Just like oil and precious metals, recyclables are commodities and their markets go up and down depending on supply and demand. China is one of many places where recyclables go to be turned into new products and packaging. Globally, China represents the largest recycling market. Approximately 50 per cent of the world’s recyclables have traditionally been made into something new in China.

For many years, some companies that did not sort their recyclables properly have been sending low-quality and contaminated recyclable materials to Chinese mills and manufacturers. This behavior prompted the Chinese government to implement the National Sword program, which is aimed at improving the quality of recyclables being imported by Chinese manufacturers. Loads of recyclables are being closely inspected under this program to ensure that quality standards are met.

While the initiative officially took effect on January 1, 2018, many third-party brokers that handle the shipping and import of recyclable materials knew it was coming and began to stop shipping materials to China in the fall of 2017. With a lot of uncertainty about how China will enforce the program, third-party brokers are reluctant to ship materials, even if they are sorted properly, for fear that the shipments will be rejected. As a result, third-party brokers are looking for other recycling markets where the rules and quality standards are clearer for them to understand. This has created a buyers’ market for certain recyclable materials around the world.

How does this affect Calgary’s Blue Cart recycling program?

The City works with Cascades Recovery, a private third-party company that sorts and markets the recyclables collected through City recycling programs. Some of The City’s plastics are recycled in Western Canada, whereas other materials are recycled overseas, including in China. Just like others around the globe, we are affected by this situation.

The City is not considering putting the stockpiled material in our landfills. Even though the market is in a downturn, these materials are still highly recyclable. Just like commodities in other industries, we frequently stockpile during downturns in order to seek a better price when markets recover. Over the life of the Blue Cart program, a portion of recycling revenues have been set aside to allow The City to address volatile market conditions and situations such as this one.

We are working with Cascades Recovery to locate new potential buyers. This includes working with them to make sure The City’s end-product is as high a quality as possible. In the meantime, we are storing the affected recyclables.

The City can not speculate on how long the market will fluctuate but we will continue to monitor this evolving situation and adjust in the future if needed. Currently, we have been able to find enough storage space. What is important to remember is that it is a market fluctuation and we want citizens of Calgary to stay in the habit of recycling and keeping these materials out of the landfill.

On a positive note, The City has shipped several loads of mixed paper to alternative markets recently.

What can I do to help with recycling?

Keep on recycling acceptable items in your Blue Cart! Follow these best practices to help make sure your recyclables can be sorted properly and improve the quality of the recyclables:
  • Bag your plastic bags before recycling. Stretchy plastic bags must be bundled into a single plastic bag and tied closed before going in the blue cart. Loose or single plastic bags jam sorting equipment and end up landfilled. They can also get into our mixed paper, making it harder to sell. 
  • Know what can be recycled in blue cart. By putting only the right things in the recycling, it makes it easier and more efficient to sort recyclables. See the list of acceptable Blue Cart items.
  • Place items in your blue cart loose. The only items that should be bagged are bundled plastic bags and separated shredded paper.
  • Clean off food and other residue. Put hard-to-clean items in your dishwasher or if you wash items by hand, use the dirty dish water to clean off food residue from your recyclables to save water.
  • Keep recyclables inside your blue cart and make sure the lid is pulled over. Your blue cart protects recyclables from rain, snow and wind and helps keep our communities litter-free.
Bookmark in your favourites! Our online search tool lets you look up hundreds of items to find the right recycling, composting or disposal option.

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