Halifax told it can dump film plastics in landfill, but will burn them instead

Halifax has been given temporary permission from the province to dump recyclable film plastics in a Nova Scotia landfill, but plans to instead truck incoming material to a kiln to be burned for fuel.

City says it will only use landfill as last resort as it grapples with China ban on recyclables

Halifax will be temporarily allowed to send film plastics, such as grocery bags, to a landfill in Hants County. (CBC)

Halifax has been given temporary permission to dump recyclable film plastics in a Nova Scotia landfill, but says it will only do so as a last resort and plans to instead truck incoming material to a kiln to be burned for fuel at a location it won't disclose.

Nova Scotia's Department of Environment granted a temporary, six-month exception for Halifax on Friday, a move that comes after China announced in July that it would no longer accept film plastics for recycling.

More than 300 tonnes of the material, which includes shopping bags and food wrap, had piled up at Halifax's storage facility in Bayers Lake in the wake of the China ban, and the municipality had asked the province for permission to send it to a landfill in Hants County.

Matt Keliher is the manager of solid waste for the Halifax Regional Municipality. He says 175 of the 300 tonnes of film plastic waste has already been sent to an out-of-province landfill. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)

But the province took so long to make its decision that the city has already shipped 175 tonnes of the material to landfills outside Nova Scotia, according to Matt Keliher, manager of solid waste for Halifax.

"We didn't have a market for it. There was nothing available. And what happened over time is it became degraded to the point where it couldn't be used in any recycling facility or it was undesirable to even put into a kiln," said Keliher.

"The discussions that we've had with the province have been kind of hit or miss over the past few weeks just because of Christmas, and we were just looking for that decision to move what we have, the stockpile that was degraded."

Landfill as a last resort

The Halifax Material Recovery Facility was almost at capacity following the Christmas rush. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)

The rest of the stored material was expected to be shipped out of province this week and next, Keliher said. The municipality will try to redirect it to the West Hants Landfill near Scotch Village, N.S., which has agreed to take the material under the province's temporary exemption.

Keliher said the city had only wanted to landfill the 300 tonnes, and did not expect the province to grant the exemption for new material as well. It will send new material it collects to a cement kiln somewhere in Canada to be used as alternative fuel.

"There's a couple that are currently accepting our material and we won't disclose which ones they are at this point in time," he said, adding that the municipality prefers to send the waste somewhere it can be reused.

"Ultimately, if there's a market available, whether it's a recycling facility or a kiln, we will move the material there. The only time that we would look to put the material into a landfill will be if there's absolutely no market available for it to be reused or turned into energy."

Other requests to be addressed individually

Environment Minister Iain Rankin told CBC News on Friday the province "did our due diligence" and was confident in the decision to grant the exemption.

"Once we did a site visit and saw the product outside, we decided that it was in the best interest of Nova Scotians to see that material in a controlled way put in a landfill," he said.

Rankin said the decision was made because of a stockpiling issue at the Halifax storage site, and that other requests across the province will be addressed individually.

Environment Minister Iain Rankin said the six-month exemption only applies to HRM. (CBC)

Rankin also said he was unaware of the use of a kiln: "We don't have an option for that currently."

Recyclable materials are banned from Nova Scotia landfills and Rankin said that ban will continue.

​"Those bans are in place because there is an end-use option for them to be recycled and we are facing an issue today where those options are being narrowed down. And for this particular product there is no option currently for an end use to be recycled."

Rankin said he encourages Nova Scotians to use reusable bags to reduce their use of film plastics whenever possible, but his department will begin to look for long-term solutions to the China ban next week.

Film plastics make up about five per cent of materials recycled in the province, according to a news release sent out by the Deparment of Environment on Friday. 

Most other recyclable materials — such as paper, margarine tubs, pop bottles, other bottles and cans — can still be recycled as usual.

Keliher said residents should continue to place film plastics in the blue bag and they will be sorted out by the city.

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