Monday, June 18, 2012

New waste system hopes to improve city's record on recycling

Last week, crews started to deliver Winnipeg's first recycling carts to neighbourhoods in the northwestern part of the city. Over the next three months, Winnipeg will replace homeowners' blue boxes and garbage cans with automated garbage and recycling carts in an effort to get residents to recycle more and throw out less. It's part of the waste overhaul approved by city council, and one major goal is to boost recycling.

The 240-litre recycling carts hold the equivalent of roughly four blue boxes. That means in a short period of time, the Henry Avenue plant will be collecting, shipping and selling about 15 per cent more tightly packed bales of newsprint, cans and mixed plastic that will be turned into new products in processing plants as far away as China.

"It doesn't sound like a lot, but it is," said Randy Park, city supervisor of waste diversion. "The changes we're doing to our collection, that's going to drive (up) the incoming amount of tonnage; that's going to really help everybody at their home recycle more."

"When we recycle more, we're going to separate more out, and we're going to sell more."

When Winnipeg first launched its curbside residential recycling program in 1995, the onus was on residents to separate and sort their discarded containers. Plastic containers went in the box, and all paper materials needed to be placed inside a separate bag.

Today, everything Winnipeggers throw in their blue box lands in one big pile and is sorted by machine and by hand.

One of the biggest misconceptions is recyclables get thrown out. In fact, Park said, about 96 per cent of the recyclables Winnipeggers put in their blue boxes are sold and turned into other products.

The core-area material recovery facility is operated by Emterra, which has a contract to collect, sort and sell all Winnipeg recyclables.

Park said the facility ships the products as soon as it can -- about 130 bales a day of tightly packed recyclables or the equivalent of about six semi-trailer loads -- because there is little room to store them.

"I think a lot of people think it goes to the landfill. There's a lot of cynicism about the recycling program, and people need to realize it does help the environment significantly," said Green Action Centre spokesman Josh Brandon.

Brandon said more public education is needed to make citizens aware of recycling's benefits and how they can participate in the program. He said "it's a shame" Winnipeg used to be a leader in residential recycling and has since fallen behind other jurisdictions and puts more waste into landfills.

Despite recent public consultations over garbage and recycling collection, Brandon said some people still don't understand it.

"A lot of people now see the program as it's going out as a bit of a negative thing," Brandon said. "People are being forced into a situation where they can't put out an unlimited amount of garbage that they used to be able to."

Regardless, the city expects to see an immediate boost in recycling.

Neighbourhoods in the city's northwest were the first to test the new garbage carts in 2010, and after one year, the area recorded the highest level of recycling Winnipeg has seen -- 47,000 metric tonnes -- and saw the amount of waste sent to the landfill drop by nearly 11,000 metric tonnes compared with the previous year.

A similar spike is expected once the carts are fully operational city-wide, which is why Winnipeg is working to increase the capacity at the recycling facility.

Park said the facility operates near capacity, and by most afternoons the tipping floor is full of heaps of recyclables. The plant has had to extend its hours in order to sort and ship the additional recyclable volumes, he said.

Aside from residential recycling, Brandon said he would like to see the city work to address commercial and institutional waste problems. It is cheaper for companies to throw their waste into a landfill than recycle it.

"We need to tackle tipping fees and to put more resources into making recycling the easiest option for business in Manitoba," he said.

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