Calgary's 2,000 tonnes of clamshell containers headed to dump after storage price tag hits $330K

The City of Calgary says it has been unable to find a solution for the 2,000 tonnes of stored plastic clamshells that it's been storing for two years at a cost of more than $300,000 other than to put them in a landfill.

'We are just as disappointed as many Calgarians will be about this'

The City of Calgary says its stored clamshell plastics will have to be landfilled. Clamshells are commonly used as packaging for strawberries and other produce at grocery stores. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

The City of Calgary says it has been unable to find a solution for the 2,000 tonnes of stored plastic clamshells that it's been storing for two years at a cost of more than $300,000 other than to put them in a landfill.

The head of the Calgary's waste and recycling department, Sharon Howland, said Tuesday that the city explored a number of options, but none was viable.

"This is the first time we've had to landfill material due to market issues, and we are just as disappointed as many Calgarians will be about this," she said in a release.

"Our priority has always been to keep all recyclable materials out of the landfill. However, despite our best efforts to find a different solution, we now have to minimize the cost of storage of the backlog and focus our efforts on ensuring clamshells are recycled moving forward."         

The stockpile began to build up in September 2017 after one of Canada's biggest buyers of material that can be recycled — China — stopped taking certain types of goods, including clamshells.

The city spent $330,000 to rent dozens of semi-trailers to store the clamshells in the hope of finding a recycling solution.

It will cost $130,000 to bury that stockpile in the landfill, the city says.

Clamshell plastic is difficult to recycle because of the types of labels and adhesives used, which require an extended wash process, the city says.

The city says its recycling contractor, Cascades Recovery+, has found a reliable solution for recycling clamshell plastics with a local company, Merlin Plastics.

But the solution is only in place for clamshells that Calgarians have put in their recycling bins since April.

Merlin Plastics recently upgraded and expanded the wash facilities at its local plant to improve its capacity for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic recycling.

Alberta urged to make producers responsible for more of life cycle costs

Some councillors have suggested the problem wouldn't exist if the Alberta government instituted a provincial regulation for extended producer responsibility (EPR).

EPRs essentially mean the companies that make packaging and other waste would pay, or be responsible, for disposing of it, usually through a recycling program.

Most provinces across the country do this to varying degrees, but not Alberta. In B.C., companies take on all the responsibility for recycling, funding and operating the system. Other places recoup a portion of the recycling costs from companies, getting the rest through taxes.

The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) has already started to lobby for EPRs in Alberta because it alleviates financial pressures on municipalities.

The City of Calgary voted to support a provincewide study of the issue, and dozens of other local governments are encouraging the concept, as well.

The province said in an email to CBC News that it is examining all options, including EPRs, and looks forward to reading the findings of a study commissioned by the AUMA. 

    "We will continue to consider stakeholder recommendations and assess other jurisdictional practices to ensure we are creating meaningful solutions to improve recycling opportunities for Albertans," said Jeff Sinclair, spokesperson for Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon.

    Making manufacturers pay for recycling helps cities, more than anything, specialist says

      Others are urging consumers not to buy single-use plastics like clamshells, which are becoming increasingly controversial in supermarkets.

      Since mass production of plastic began in the 1950s, the world has produced 8.3 billion tonnes of it. In Canada, just 11 per cent of plastic gets recycled, and globally that number drops to nine per cent.

      Plastic has been found in the Arctic, in the deepest trenches of the oceans, in the air and in our food. By 2050, it is believed there will be more plastic in the world's oceans per tonnage than fish.

      Unlike materials such as aluminum and glass, plastic can only be re-processed a finite number of times. This means even the plastic we do manage to recycle will eventually end up as waste. Once discarded, it takes hundreds of years to break down.

      CBC Marketplace investigation: Canada's major grocery chains slow to tackle the mounting problem of plastic waste

      Some stores are trying to change. For example, Iceland, a U.K.-based chain that specializes in frozen products, is the first supermarket in the world to commit to removing all plastic from its own products within five years.

      But reducing the amount we use as consumers is difficult when retailers provide few alternatives.

      A full list of what can and can't be recycled is available on the City of Calgary's website.

      With files from CBC Marketplace


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