Where will our recycled material go?
You may have seen recent media reports around the fact that China is no longer accepting recyclable material and that it's often hard for other communities to sell their products. This has caused some concern that our materials may not be marketable. The information below helps explain the measure the City of Lethbridge has taken to respond to the changes in the recycling industry.
Positioning ourselves differently
The City of Lethbridge is actually positioned much better than other communities to manage the changes in the recycling industry. The benefit of starting our curbside recycling program now is that we have been able to watch what's happening and make decisions on what we collect in our blue carts based on that information.
We have heard concerns from residents that we aren't accepting everything in the blue cart and that they will still need to take trips to the recycling stations. The decisions we have made aren't to make things more difficult for our residents but to prevent the contamination and quality issues other municipalities are struggling with. Many cities are now having to change their programs and remove things from their blue cart collections that are problematic in the sorting, processing and marketing of their recyclables.
We talked extensively with other cities to learn from their experiences and build a program that will be sustainable for Lethbridge. Glass, plastic film and plastic bags are not accepted in blue carts as they are considered the top three contaminants of recyclable materials.
Currently cardboard represents over 55% of the materials recycled, markets for cardboard are in North America, and current prices are favorable to encourage the recycling of this material.
Plastics represent 10-15% of the materials and currently are being recycled in local markets. We have used some of the recycled plastic in plastic lumber materials in parking lots and parks across the city. Research and new opportunities are currently being explored in North America to increase the recycling opportunities for plastics.
Glass recovered at the recycling stations will be used in different city projects, including as a base for City pathways.
Phase 1 of curbside recycling had a contamination rate of less than 14%. For city-wide roll out, we will continue to focus on educating residents to only put clean, accepted material in their blue cart to maintain a low contamination rate. We have, and will continue to share information and create face-to-face interactions with our residents to help them understand the importance of recycling right. This includes a wide range of marketing, communication and outreach activities.
The City of Lethbridge has taken measures to make sure our recyclables get to a buyer that will use it for another purpose. As part of our contract to market the cardboard, metals, aluminum and plastics, we have included quarterly reports from the broker including end market performance, assessment of market continuity, percentage of materials not suitable or that were disposed of, utilization of environmentally responsible end markets, etc.
As the program gets underway, the City will have a transparent process to demonstrate where materials are being recycled and share the information following the broker policies and procedures.