Waste & Recycling


Editorial: Wake up and smell the rot

Pulling back the curtain on the recycling industry

Emily Atkins is Editor of Solid Waste & Recycling magazine.

The recent media frenzy created by the diplomatic row over 100 containers of household waste masquerading as plastic for recycling has pulled back the curtain on the recycling industry for many in Canada.

For the month of May 2019 the ‘recycling crisis’ dominated the news cycle. The posturing and drama created by Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte recalling his diplomats and threatening to dump the putrid containers in front of the Canadian consulate in Manila started mainstream media outlets digging into the recycling business.

Good for them. People need to know what really happens to the plastics, diapers, food waste and all the rest that they casually toss in the blue bin. For too long it’s been more of a ‘black box’ – it goes in the bin and disappears and we all feel good in the belief that it’s being recycled.

It’s no secret that single-stream recycling programs create more contamination. And with the China ‘ban’ turning into a ‘ban-wagon’ as more countries introduce stricter import controls the pressure is on the major waste generators – like Canada – to clean up their act.

The bottom line is that we only recycle about 10 percent of the plastic we dispose of in this country. The new ban on single-use plastics has been hailed as a positive step towards containing plastic waste (see “Canada’s plastics ban” p.10), but the question remains how will it affect people’s blue box habits and the market for recycled plastics.

With less single-use plastic headed for the blue bin will people be more or less careful of what they discard? Will returnable containers end up in the waste stream instead because returns are a hassle?

The creation and roll out of the plastics ban is going to take serious thinking and planning, hopefully with the full input of the waste disposal and recycling industries.

Print this page

Related Posts