George Rodgers says he's just getting by operating the recycling depot in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

The depot collected 5.7 million used beverage containers in 2016, but Rodgers says that's still not enough enough to make his business profitable.

He says he's just scraping by after paying his staff, and is staying afloat only because he has other work.

"It's really hard to do anything with your operation, to improve your operation, because you're basically just marginal, just making it," he said in an interview with CBC's Labrador Morning.

Wayne Best at HVGB green depot

In 2016, the depot collected 5.7 used beverage containers for recycling. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Rodgers says he sank about a half-million dollars into the business when he first started out 20 years ago. He bought crushing equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars to bale material into cubes.

He says he used to win contracts to process Labrador recycling, which meant he broke even on the depot, and profited on the processing, but that's changed.

Single contract for whole province

In 2014, the government awarded one processing contract for the entire province, to Hebert's Recycling, a company based in New Brunswick with facilities in Mount Pearl and Norris Arm.

For the depots to operate in Labrador, you need every aspect of this industry in order to survive. - George Rodgers

The province says no Labrador-based company bid on the five-year contract.

Rodgers says a small operation like his couldn't handle processing all of the province's used beverage containers —  176.9 million containers in 2015-16, according to the Multi-Materials Stewardship Board.

So the crushing equipment at Rodgers Recycling in Happy Valley-Goose Bay is basically defunct.  

George Rodgers

George Rodgers say he invested tens of thousands of dollars in now-defunct equipment to process recycling in Labrador, but the government awarded a single contract for the whole province. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Rodgers argues that processing Labrador recycling should be done in Labrador.

"For the depots to operate in Labrador, you need every aspect of this industry in order to survive. There's no more than that to it," he said.

Whitehorse example

Recycling works differently in Whitehorse, where the the Raven Recycling Society has a contract with the Yukon government to process the territory's reusable trash.

Executive director Joy Synder says the not-for-profit business also operates a scrap metal business and runs a bottle depot.  

Raven Recycling in Whitehorse

The Raven Recycling Society in Whitehorse runs a bottle depot and serves as a scrap metal dealer to generate money for the not-for-profit business. (Raven Recycling/Submitted)

Snyder says the profit they make from their different ventures helps to cover off household and commercial recycling, which doesn't make much money. 

The environmental liability of land-filling waste is sort of coming to the forefront here, and it's becoming very real, that you just can't bury stuff anymore. - Joy Snyder, Whitehorse's Raven Recycling

Raven Recycling also gets money back from the government — through diversion credits — after recycling is shipped out.  

It also helps that Yukoners want to recycle, Snyder says, leading the government to support recycling programs. 

"The environmental liability of land-filling waste is sort of coming to the forefront here, and it's becoming very real, that you just can't bury stuff anymore," she said. 

'Everything should be be recycled'

George Rodgers says figuring out how to make recycling profitable is a challenge, but he maintains that recycling is the future.

"Everything should be recycled. Everything. It's not only what we're doing right here, right now — 80 to 90 per cent of what goes through the landfills can be recycled." 

He hopes the government will also expand the MMSB's recycling product line, adding that he'd like to see mandatory recycling in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and an education program to convince people of the need for that.


Dropping off recycling at the depot

Recycling is stored in 20-foot containers in Labrador coastal communities during the winter and is transported to Happy Valley-Goose Bay by boat during the summer. (John Gaudi/CBC )

Perry Trimper, the minister responsible for the MMSB, says incorporating more products is on the radar, but finding a market is the challenge.

"What we need to do is as we identify other products that we can get back into this recycling, that we can divert from the landfill, that we can do it in such a way that we can at least break even, or perhaps make some profit," he said.

Trimper also says extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs, where businesses are financially responsible for collecting and recycling products they make, to keep them out of landfills, are key.

Currently, the MMSB helps to co-ordinate EPR programs for both electronics and waste paint.

Trimper says the board is looking at how EPR programs could work for other materials like cardboard and plastics, but admitted the scope is very broad and he wouldn't commit to when it might happen.

Customer drops off recycling a depot in HVGB

There's no timeline for expanding the types of household waste that can be recyled in Labrador. (John Gaudi/CBC )