With a changing recycling market, it may be better for the environment to directly trash items such as black plastic lids, bread tabs and styrofoam containers. Hamilton’s waste management officials are increasingly forced to risk rejection from potential buyers due to entire loads of contaminated blue bins.
Contaminated loads may include non-recyclable material or garbage in the recycling system. This can range from leftover food in containers, to non-recyclable plastic packaging or the more obvious instances including clothing.
Rejected loads of recyclables have been a major cause in a spike of blue box contamination rate. Hamilton’s contamination rate has jumped from seven to 14 per cent over the past five years, which is still fairly low compared to other cities. Toronto, for example, struggles with a contamination rate of nearly 25 per cent.
Emil Prpic, Hamilton’s Manager of Recycling & Waste Disposal, says that these changes are driven by the recycling market. In some cases, these materials have no end market or have a small, limited market of buyers. Further, these materials are nearly impossible to pick out with existing processing equipment.
“It is expected that by removing these materials from the blue box it will increase the quality of Hamilton’s recyclable materials and therefore make them more marketable for end markets,” said Prpic.
The recycling market is mostly driven by China. Before the country changed its regulations last July, Chinese companies were buying nearly half of the world’s unwanted recyclables. China has since banned 24 types of solid waste, including textiles, mixed paper and the low-grade polyethylene terephthalate used in plastic bottles.
Over the next several months, the city will continue to take black plastics, coffee cup lids, bottle caps, polystyrene and other newly banned items in blue bin loads, but are encouraging residents to being placing these materials in the garbage. In the meantime, the city will be updating digital communication platforms while considering further educational materials.