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Montreal’s Recycling Crisis

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Montreal’s Recycling – Montreal’s curbside recycling pickup program, now plagued with problems, is probably due for a re-boot almost 30 years after it started. Yes, we want to protect the environment, but we cannot ignore the economics of recycling. Public awareness also needs to be improved and better harmonization across Montreal Island would not hurt…

China, traditionally our main market for recycled materials, has dramatically cut back on buying from overseas, causing prices to crash from $150 a ton last year to $17 a ton today. As such, local recycling programs are now only covering a tiny portion of their costs. Montreal and other municipalities are stockpiling recycled materials as a stop-gap measure. But unless we fix the problems quickly, we will be forced to dump our recycling programs.

One problem is that there is no source separation: paper, plastic, metal, glass, and trash are all mixed in the back of recycling trucks. What these trucks haul to sorting depots looks—and typically smells—like garbage. The sorters simply “cherry pick” out items of value. This is made worse by broken glass mixed in…

Not only is broken glass a danger for sorters, it contaminates everything else. It gets mixed in with the paper, making this difficult to recycle. It gets mixed with the plastic, again complicating the process and lowering the eventual market value. Mixing makes a mess and left us with essentially only one market: China. Now, not even China wants our low quality recyclables…

For precisely these reasons, other jurisdictions in Canada have stopped accepting glass in their curbside recycling programs; Montreal should do the same. Under the best of conditions, recycled glass never commands a high price; it is also non-toxic if buried in landfill sites. Where is the rationale of recycling glass?

Our present system is designed primarily to increase the tonnage of recycling with no regard to product quality or to market values. We expect and encourage people to be lazy. In short, the system is designed more to appease our guilty consciences rather than create a viable business model.

Recycling programs are a public service and should not be expected to be profitable; but need to nonetheless recover a significant portion of their cost. Decreasing the tonnage while increasing revenues will put us back on the right track.

Montreal’s choice of green recycling bins is strange, too, given that most Canadian cities—including many independent towns on Montreal Island–make blue the colour of recycling. In my part of town, recycling bins are green and garbage bins are blue, but only a block away it is the opposite. Naturally, this causes confusion and probably adds to recycling woes.

I question whether the population is necessarily lazy and just wants it to be easy to recycle. During World War II, recycling programs were much more rigorous and extensive than they are now; my grandparents participated with zest. Why not bring back source separation? This would make it much easier for sorting plants to recover materials and increase revenues.

Beyond this, Montreal needs targeted programs to develop new markets for recycled materials and to encourage consumers to buy products made from such materials.

We need to build a viable business model behind our recycling programs, and expect the population to pitch in more than it is now doing. If we do not, we will likely soon see all our recyclables hauled to garbage dumps.

By: John Symon – info@mtltimes.ca
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