Strathcona County revises recycling rules due to China's restrictions

Glass bottles, clamshell containers and plastic bags will no longer be accepted for recycling in Strathcona County.

'If every small player does a small part, it adds up to a big change,' says utility director

Strathcona County will introduce new recycling measures in September. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Changes are coming this fall to what Strathcona County residents can sort and set out on their curb for collection.

Glass bottles, clamshell containers and plastic bags will no longer be accepted for recycling in the county. 

The county launched a campaign over the weekend to bring awareness to recycling changes that won't take effect until September. Resident feedback was gleaned from Facebook so recycling information could be updated on the county website.

It's never too early for people to adopt the guidelines, said Jeff Hutton, director of Strathcona County Utilities.

The blue bin can no longer contain plastic wrap or paper cups, and materials need to be cleaned before being put in the bin.

"If the bags are contaminated with unmarketable materials or dirty materials, we actually risk that entire bag may go to the landfill," Hutton said. "And there still is a good, significant portion that's recyclable."

Blue bags and big change

The county is changing the rules because of its part in the global recycling system — a chain from residents, to collectors, to processing sites, to overseas.

In January, China shook up the recycling market when it announced restrictions on which materials it would accept from North America. The change means some things people have always recycled are now destined for the landfill.

Plastic clamshell packaging won't be accepted in Strathcona County recycling but can go in the garbage instead. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

While this might disappoint many, the move stresses the importance of sustainability, Hutton said.

"One of the big reasons we want to clean up the blue bag is because we want recyclables to get recycled," he said.

"We want to do our part," Hutton added. "If every small player does a small part, it adds up to a big change."

What happens in the global recycling marketplace affects local habits too.

"It's strange to think that we're far away from China, but decisions made there are impacting us right in our households where we go to dispose of our yogurt container, for example," he said.

Education and awareness

Change is difficult, so Hutton wants Strathcona County residents to understand the new requirements through this education and awareness phase. The efforts involve Trash Fest and street teams engaging people, and the 10-year running Green Routine waste collection initiative.

After the change takes effect in the fall, if people don't comply, warnings will be issued and the county will refuse to collect products — but it's rare that it'll come to that, he said.

"We know this is going to take some time and we're going to give our residents lots of information and support," Hutton said.

In September to-go cups will no longer be accepted by Strathcona County recycling and will instead head for the landfill. (CBC)

The three R's

In Alberta, each municipality sets its own recycling priorities — something Hutton calls "far from the best." Compared to British Columbia, Alberta isn't as coordinated when it comes to provincial-scale regulations, he said.   

"They have a large volume of a more homogenous recycling bag … so they're more marketable," he said of B.C.   

But Hutton has hope that municipalities will become more alike in their practices.

It comes down to something everyone has heard in grade school: reduce, reuse and recycle.

"It's important that we all work together," Hutton said.

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