British Columbia·Video

Why B.C. is better at recycling than most other places

The sorting centre for recyclable materials in South Vancouver goes from loud to deafening when a robin's-egg-blue truck drops a mountain of paper products on the concrete floor.

B.C. has one of the most efficient recycling programs in Canada. Here are 3 reasons why it works

A truck drops off plastic materials at a recycling facility in South Vancouver. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

The sorting centre for recyclable materials in South Vancouver goes from loud to deafening when a robin's-egg-blue truck drops a mountain of paper products on the concrete floor.

Recycle B.C. spokesperson David Lefebvre is trying his best to explain over the noise how B.C.'s recycling process works.

"Can you hear the broken glass in there?" he yelled. "That's contamination. That's what we're trying to avoid."

B.C.'s system isn't perfect — as the sound of the glass mixed in with paper suggests — but it is highly efficient compared to most other places in North America

Here are some reasons why:

Recycle B.C. spokesperson David Lefebvre says British Columbia's program is unique. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

1. Producers pay

British Columbia switched to a 'cradle to grave' recycling model in 2014, which is popular in many European countries.

Under B.C.'s system, called Recycle B.C., business owners pay a fee for packaging they create that will eventually end up in someone's blue bin.

"It's 100 per cent funded and operated by the companies that are putting plastic and paper product packaging into the marketplace," Lefebvre said.

"These companies have come together in order to manage recycling across the province."

B.C.'s contamination rate for recyclable materials is one of the lowest in the country. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

2. Low contamination

One of the biggest challenges for recycling programs is dealing with garbage or other non-recyclable materials that end up in the system.

It's called contamination, which is a technical term for what happens when spaghetti sauce spills onto some newspapers in your blue bin.

The contaminated paper now either can't be recycled or will be recycled into a lower quality product, which both cost recycling programs money.

"We have an average contamination rate of about six percent," Lefebvre said.

"It's really good compared to other provinces and a lot of that is due to the education that's been happening both at the municipal level and across the province."

Toronto and Edmonton have struggled with high contamination rates of around 25 percent.

If you're unclear on what should and shouldn't go in your blue bin, you can check here.

A worker separates plastic bottles at a recycling depot in Beijing May 23, 2013. According to government figures, reported in local media, about 4.67 million tons of recyclable waste was collected in Beijing in 2010. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

3. Product quality

B.C.'s low contamination rate means the province's raw recycled materials are usually high quality. Lefebvre says that makes them much easier to sell in an extremely competitive global market.

"With some countries choosing not to accept materials anymore, it's really shifting the supply and demand equation," he said. "What that means is that processors can really be more choosy about the materials that they accept."

China — which was the world's biggest destination for recyclable materials — either banned or placed restrictions on importing waste in 2018.

The change left municipalities around the world scrambling to find customers for their plastics, scrap paper and cardboard.

"We're still able to find markets, but there are a lot of jurisdictions that are definitely struggling at this time," Lefebvre said.

"Obviously, our preference would be local, so if you look at plastic, all of the plastic that's collected here in the province ends up here in B.C."

Watch the CBC's Jesse Johnston break down everything you need to know about recycling

How B.C. Recycles

4 years ago
Duration 2:23
Everything you need to know about recycling in B.C.