The “blue box” program was designed originally to collect materials: newspapers, steel cans, aluminum cans, glass bottles and jars, and PET bottles. The program was expanded to include other materials as markets developed and we had the capability of effectively handling them. Materials such as magazines, phone books, junk mail, cardboard boxes, boxboard, plastic bottles of different resin types, etc. However, the program was always intended for Printed Paper and Packaging only.
For some reason, users over the years have forgotten the intent of the program and soon we began to see non-acceptable included in the containers. For some people, it seems they believe that our acceptable list is simply a “guideline”. It isn’t. We find that many people confuse the fact that something might be recyclable with acceptable in the blue box program. That is simply not true. For example, just because something is made of metal and may be perfectly recyclable at a local scrap yard it does not mean it is acceptable in the blue box for recycling. Placing pots and pans, bake ware, dog leaches, nuts and bolts, etc in the blue boxes simply adds to the contamination, down time in the processing facility, and risk of injury for our people.
The same reasoning applies to anything made of plastic regardless if it has a mobius loop (recycling symbol) on it. Unless it is a packaging container, it is not acceptable.
The same applies to glass. Unless it is a bottle or a jar, glass in general it is not acceptable. As such, there should be no window, no drinking glasses, no mirrors, no bakeware, no crystal bowls, etc.
Over the years, the demand and quality specifications for different materials have changed along with the composition of the Printed Paper and Packaging changes. In general, one constant has been that the end markets have always demanded increased quality standards from us, with one exception. The exception was export market, specifically to China. With China’s growth and ever increasing need for resources to feed that growth, they aggressively pursued the world markets for our commodities. They had two advantages, cheap freight with thousands of empty containers returning to China after they delivered all the newest products our corporations hired they them to build to increase their bottom line, and cheap labour subject to lower standards. It was easy to convince sellers around the world to do less sorting and ship mixed materials to them.
The end result was a huge dependence on the export market to sell lower quality mixed materials to them. The pressure was so severe that many established long term facilities like paper and steel mills shuttered their doors in the last recession and never re-opened because they simply could not compete with China.
In recent years, as China has struggled with the results of this practice, a number of initiatives have been launched to curtail excessive contamination yielding little to no benefit for their economy. At first they focused on quality and they successfully improved the material quality but not without causing many waves in the process. At times, buyers have pulled from the markets to cool off demand and lower prices. This year the government simply did not renew the required licenses for their industries to import materials and they made an announcement to the World Trade Organization that they would ban 24 commodities by December 31. Material movement has stopped in some cases and prices have plummeted. Furthermore, most commodities have a 5% allowance for contamination built in however that standard is now being pushed to 0.3% contamination allowance. Yes, that is a purity rate 17 times more stringent than in the past.
The Problematic Materials
We need your help to include only materials that are actually recyclable and acceptable in the recycling containers. You may have noticed that the acceptable list has changed slightly. It reflects what the ‘blue box” program was designed to collect and what the marketplace is looking for today. We are essentially collecting the same suite of PPP (Printed Paper and Packaging) we always have, except for a handful of problematic materials that make up less than 3% of the entire waste stream. These materials are problematic because their general quantities are too low to sort and sell separately and their properties make them a contaminant to everything else you have worked hard to recycle. They include:
Non Beverage Aluminum
Cartons consist of multi-laminate packaging also known as aseptic and gable top cartons used for juice, milk, soups and broth. They make up approximately 0.71% of the overall waste stream.
They were the last material added to the program in 2012. Historically, these materials were not recyclable. Recent advancements have enabled the recycling of these containers as they have pristine long white fibers as one of their layers. Unfortunately, the other plastic and metal layers remain problematic for end markets. When we added them, the intent was to recover enough of them to access special markets that made new office paper with them rather than the traditional tissue paper.
Despite our best effort to recover these containers we have not been successful. We collect about 70% of the available material, however we have only been able to capture less than half of the containers collected. The primary reason is their “shape shifting” tendencies.
In our processing facility, if the cartons are flattened during collection (compaction) or from being handled (piled up on the tip floor), cartons can end up flowing over a mixed paper or finishing screen thereby ending up in the mixed paper stream. About 50% of the containers end up in the mixed paper as a contaminant. Some components in cartons can impact the pulping process and lead to decreases in fibre yields in mixed paper pulping applications. Moreover, this outcome decreases the economic value of cartons as the price paid for polycoat bales is higher than the price paid for mixed paper bales.
The remaining containers are sorted accordingly by our optical sorter but the volumes are too low to maintain a separate grade.
Our recommendation is for users to purchase their food in other acceptable recyclable containers such as plastic jugs for milk, or metal cans for soups and broth.
Plastic bags consist of single-use bags, bakery and laundry bags, overwrap films. They make up approximately 1.75% of the overall waste stream
We have been collecting these since 1990 with varied success over the years. We tried to expand the types of plastic film we accepted in the 90’s but in 2001 we had to go back to the basic retail bag because of the excessive contamination.
Markets are limited for this material and its value is very low compared to the cost of recovery. It is estimated to cost over $2,000 per tonne to recover while the material typically fetches $20 per tonne from end markets.
More serious is the fact that films/bags wrap around mechanical machinery and envelope other recyclables causing sorting and operational inefficiencies at the material recovery facility. The implementation of the automated program has exasperated the issue since the homeowners have become lazy and they are no longer bagging the bags before dropping them in the wheelie bins. As a result, we now have to deal with literally millions of bags in our system that have to be hand picked before getting tangled, blocking the screens, and causing down time.
There are numerous return-to-retail programs where consumers can return plastic films and bags for recycling in bins located at or near store entrances. Typically these programs are not promoted heavily due to retailer concerns re contamination of store facilities. Alternatively, reuse the bags for lunches, kitty litter, dog poop, kitchen catchers, etc. As a last resort, they will be accepted in your recycling bin if bagged together.
Non Beverage Aluminum
Aluminum foil and aluminum foil products such as pie plates and take out trays make up approximately 0.27% of the overall waste stream.
The material has been tolerated in our aluminum can bales for years but we typically loose $200 per tonne in revenue because they are present. Our equipment technology cannot differentiate foil from cans and there is not enough of it to have anyone hand pick it and save it as a separate commodity. Another related product is cat food cans. They typically have a paper label, plastic lining, and leftover food. All are a serious contamination to the manufacturer of cans. They only want aluminum beverage cans.
The foil is usually heavily contaminated with food residue but even if it was in pristine condition it is considered a contamination in the can bales. The main reason is the furnace temperature to melt the aluminum cans is so high that any foil material in the mix is simply burnt off and the residue has a tendency to clog their anti-pollution air emission systems.
You are best to reuse the foil products where possible. Use them for craft projects, when feasible.
Aerosol containers consist of pressurized steel or aluminum containers used for in many applications from hair spray to paint. They make up approximately 0.22% of the overall waste stream
In Ontario, these containers are technically designated hazardous waste. While in theory, an empty container is no different than a regular can, in reality when the container is empty of its contents (hair spray or paint) it is often still full or the propellant.
As such, it remains a hazardous waste with its explosion risks and should be managed with those products at special depots. Similarly, disposable propane tanks should be managed the same way regardless of the manufacturers instruction that they may be recyclable.
Paint cans consist of metal or plastic containers used to hold paint. They make up approximately 0.05% of the overall waste stream.
Empty metal paint containers are still acceptable. Empty plastic paint containers have never been acceptable. You cannot often tell the difference unless you look at the bottom of the can. There are still instances where the cans are not empty and they are technically hazardous waste and need to be managed at special depots.