Only nine per cent of all plastic in Canada is recycled

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Only nine per cent of all plastic in Canada is recycled, according to a recent study by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). The vast majority of plastic, 86 per cent, ends up in a landfill and one per cent — about 29,000 tons, goes into the environment each year.

In B.C., manufacturers are responsible for ensuring a product can be recycled. The consumer pays a small fee at the time of purchase to cover the cost of collection, transportation and recycling the items. The practice applies to anything from cardboard, to blenders, to a cellphone.

“If you produce printed paper or packaging in B.C. you are responsible for its end of life,” said Sonam Bajwa, solid waste planner for the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN).

Packaging accounts for nearly half of plastic waste in Canada, according to the ECCC study. Plastic packaging, such as food wrappers, can be recycled in the RDN, but must be taken to a Recycle BC depot and cannot be picked up by curbside recycling. It can render other material useless when the truck compresses the load.

“That flexible plastic, because it’s all stretchy, will become stuck in the other hard plastics and you’ll end up with this clump of material that can’t be pulled apart, so we can’t recycle it,” said Bajwa. 

The RDN is one of B.C.’s highest-ranked districts in terms of reducing solid waste, with 397 kg/person each year— the provincial average is 505 kg/person. Bajwa credits the success to longstanding blue and green bin programs and a high level of awareness in the population — two thirds of waste is diverted from the landfill.

“There’s that consciousness, I think, in the residents at the RDN, of wanting to do the right thing and really being in support of some really progressive ideas,” she said.

Single-use items such as bottle caps, straws and plastic bags make up the bulk of plastics found on Canadian shorelines, according to ECCC. The federal government is also concerned about micro-plastic particles accumulating in soil and the potential for the particles to make their way into groundwater aquifers.

The RDN’s plastic is shipped to Merlin Plastics in Delta, where it is broken down into pellets and sold to companies who manufacture recycled products, such as plastic park benches. 

The flexible plastic is broken down into an industrial fuel as part of a pilot project. Four per cent of Canada’s plastic is used in similar energy recovery projects. 

Bajwa said the easiest way for residents to make sure their plastic gets recycled is to use the RDN’s Curbside app, which can also be accessed on its website. Residents can type in an item and find out if it can be picked up by curbside recycling trucks or if it must be deposited at a facility.

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