Montreal Recycling – A good idea in crisis


Montreal Recycling – When about twenty years ago the green boxes and bins made their appearance in the urban landscape of Montreal, they were hailed as a significant breakthrough in the way how we should deal with objects that we discard. The idea of recycling was an important step toward environmental awareness, and it also made us think about the possibilities it was opening. The ubiquitous plastic objects, from bottles to bags and discarded toys; glass in all its various forms, and old newspapers would find a new life, as new objects which probably, in turn, could be recycled as well. A sort of virtuous circle would come to replace the old throw-away culture so much ingrained in our consumer’s society.

Montreal Recycling
Montreal Recycling – A good idea in crisis

Montreal Mayor on recycling crisis

Unfortunately, things haven’t gone the way they were envisioned. Just last week Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante was calling on the province to take some action in view that four sorting plants were to be shut down by the company that operates them. She also made clear her opposition at any attempt to take the recyclable materials stored in a facility in St. Michel that may be closed down, to landfills.

For its part, RSC Group which operates that plant in St. Michel and three others, issued a statement in which it indicated that “it sells much of the paper it recuperates (in Montreal), in countries like China and India, which have said they would no longer buy waste paper from Western countries because of a high contamination rate.”  If you wonder what happens to paper, glass, plastics and other materials you put in the recycling bin, they get collected, taken to a local materials recovery facility where they are sorted using different means, from sophisticated computerized machines to old-fashioned manual separation. Once the materials are sorted, cleaned, and squeezed into cubes, they are sold to “end markets,” i.e. places, mostly in China and other countries where they are transformed into new materials. But it is here where the crisis looms: the end markets are saturated and don’t need more recyclables.

In dealing with the difficulties created by an excess of recyclables that far exceed the demand, Montreal is not alone. There seems to be a recycling crisis that probably affects most of the country by now. Moreover, it appears that it is also becoming a global one.

In an article on the subject, Matthew Halliday wrote in The Walrus this December 17, 2019: “More than a public service, recycling is largely a commodity business, as dependent on supply and demand as any other. When municipalities produce more recyclable garbage than end markets can absorb, the value of the product decreases. In the selling market, Canada faces competition from countries across the world.”

Other situations aggravate the problem since Canada, in general, has dismantled most of its manufacturing industry, materials that in the past, could have been recycled in the country now depend on foreign buyers. Also, despite the time that recycling has been around, people still lack education on the subject and place dirty plastics and lots of non-recyclable items in the containers. Not only individuals act irresponsibly, but some companies do too: last year The Philippines even threatened war over a ship sent from Canada which, disguised as recyclables, had intended to introduce lots of garbage into that nation.

Recycling, a good idea then, in crisis now, and with a difficult way out. The facilities are full and there are no buyers in the traditional markets. Only a small fraction of what is collected is recycled in Canada, a situation that to be reverted it would need a new industrial strategy, in the meantime, recyclables continue to accumulate in the materials-recovery facilities in Montreal and in other cities in the country. A good idea now in need of new good ideas to be relaunched, because after all, recycling is beneficial for the environment.

By: Sergio Martinez –

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