Recyling centers struggle with efficiency issues

For years cities in Canada and the United States have made a tidy profit with recycling programs, that help the cities coffers as well as protect the environment. Waste bin insurance has been needed to protect the bins and those that use them, but other issues have made recycling a more difficult proposition.

Recycling has become more expensive, and to many cities, it is now an expense instead of a money maker. One thing has been a cultural change as more people get their news online instead of getting a physical newspaper. Those newspapers were easy to recycle and profitable for those that did the recycling. There are also more and more plastics, which take more work and are not nearly as profitable.

An owner of a consulting firm in Ontario said the recycling industry is being hampered by issues it did not have even 10 years ago. There are situations where plastics are attached to metals, and that is something a recycling center is not equipped to deal with. Another huge problem is items that are “contaminated.” Food or liquid left in bottles gums up the works and makes the plastic container into something that is not recyclable.

To make matters even worse, China has changed its rules as to what it will accept. For years the material that was contaminated, not recyclable, was crushed into cubes and sold to countries like China. The profit was less but it was still profit. China was the world’s biggest importer of recyclables as well, but in January of this year tightened up the rules as to what it would accept.

China will now accept no more than 0.5 percent contamination, and that is a level that many recycling centers in Canada and the United States have trouble meeting.

The reason they do, is people are not careful enough about what they put in the blue bins. Putting something in the wrong bin can make a whole group of stuff that could otherwise be recycled, useless and headed to the landfill.

According to the CBC statistics, St. John’s has the bests recycling with a three-percent contamination rate. Vancouver is close behind at 4.6 percent. At the other end of the scale, Toronto has a 26 percent contamination rate, and Halifax is at 21 percent. St. Johns has a low contamination rate, but only 60 percent of households participate, so a lot of material still goes to the landfill.

It will take more public education to reduce the contamination rates.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.