Since Regina’s blue cart recycling program began last July, residents have been dutifully washing, peeling and "recycling" their empty spaghetti sauce jars — unaware that their efforts were entirely in vain.
The City of Regina has admitted that for more than a year, glass food containers like pickle jars and jam jars have not been recycled. Instead, they have apparently ended up in the landfill.
During that year, while the city was urging residents to recycle “glass food and beverage containers," Regina’s contract recycler Emterra took in more than 650 tonnes of glass.
Emterra is paid by the tonne to recycle it. That money comes out of the $91.25-a-year fee paid by homeowners.
The private company did return unbroken glass drink containers, like wine and beer bottles, to SARCAN for a deposit.
However, it had no plan to recycle food container glass, which largely ended up in shattered pieces in the dump with all the other garbage.
In addition, Emterra didn’t recycle any broken glass despite the fact that it is recyclable and despite the fact that it was paid to recycle it.
Emterra's business manager, Paulina Leung said the company hopes to eventually have a way to recycle Regina's glass food containers and broken glass.
"We're working with a potential new end market for it. I don't want to disclose because we're still working through it," Leung explained. "But we're pretty excited about this."
'Flipped over a rock and something’s crawled out'
Through weeks of conversations with CBC’s iTeam, Roberta Engel, the City of Regina manager who runs the recycling program, offered up a series of constantly changing and contradictory explanations for what was going on with glass recycling.
In the end, she acknowledged to CBC “unfortunately you flipped over a rock and something’s crawled out of it.”
Lack of transparency about glass recycling
When first contacted, Engel told CBC’s iTeam that Emterra took glass food containers to SARCAN for recycling.
She said Emterra did “in fact have a contract that’s exclusive to them with SARCAN that does take the pickle jars, salsa jars and ketchup bottles for example.”
She offered to get a copy of the contract as proof.
Days later, Engel explained she had just learned “the agreement between SARCAN and Emterra was a verbal agreement,” and that SARCAN had cancelled it shortly after CBC’s iTeam started asking questions.
“Recently Emterra’s been advised SARCAN’s no longer taking the non-refundable glass [food containers] so Emterra’s now stockpiling them,” Engel said.
SARCAN flatly denies this claim, saying it’s not in the business of recycling food containers. And SARCAN said it had no such conversation with Emterra.
Engel eventually acknowledged that this claim was false.
“Upon further clarification, we have verified with SARCAN and Emterra there has been no change in the way non-refundable container glass is being handled.” Engel wrote in an email.
SARCAN doesn’t recycle food containers
As for the central claim that SARCAN had been recycling Regina’s glass food containers, that too turns out to be false.
When the iTeam asked Engel why she believed SARCAN was recycling Regina’s pickle jars, she explained Emterra had provided a photo which appeared to show beverage and food container glass on the same truck, bound for SARCAN.
“All I can speak to and all that I know is that I’ve seen pictures and I have a staff member that’s out at Emterra on a regular basis and we’ve monitored and made sure that it’s [glass food containers] being diverted.”
Leung, said if a pickle jar was sent to SARCAN with deposit glass like wine and beer bottles that would be “a mistake” and the food containers would be “in there by accident.”
“Sorters are humans. They might put one [pickle jar] in there,” Leung said.
In the end, the city once again changed its story.
Engel said that in the past she “understood” that food container glass was being taken to SARCAN and recycled.
“Now that this is not the case, Emterra’s responsibility to the city is to find an alternate market.”
Engel added “since this has come to our attention [by CBC’s iTeam in August] Emterra has been stockpiling crates of non-refundable glass.”
“So far, six crates have been collected.”
Much of the 650 tonnes of glass collected by Emterra over the past year broke in transit as it is collected in a compaction truck that squishes the contents.
If the glass survives that, more of it shatters on the floor of the recycling facility.
Leung said Emterra is currently developing a system that will capture and recycle broken glass.
“These systems take time to develop. It’s costly. It takes engineering.”