Edmonton

Quarter of Edmonton's recyclables going straight to landfill during pandemic

About a quarter of the recyclable materials collected in blue bags are being disposed of at the landfill instead of being sorted at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre during the COVID-19 crisis.

Residents ask for more transparency around how waste management is handled by city

The City of Edmonton's Waste Management Centre is only sorting 75 per cent of the recyclables it collects during the pandemic. The remaining 25 per cent is sent to the landfill. (Josee St-Onge/CBC)

About one-quarter of the recyclable materials collected in blue bags are being disposed at the landfill instead of being sorted at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre during the COVID-19 crisis.

"Currently, the materials recovery facility can manage approximately 75 per cent of the blue bag material coming to the site," a City of Edmonton spokesperson said in a written statement. 

"The remaining 25 per cent goes to landfill due to increases in safety protocols for staff within the facility." 

While speaking with a garbage truck operator last week, Edmonton resident Ann Vriend was disappointed to learn that her blue bags were being sent to the landfill.

"You feel deflated with your attempts to try and do something right and good for our planet," Vriend said. 

"It causes cynicism. I wash all this stuff and sort it in bags that I bought. And then you're like, 'I feel like a fool.'"

The recycling facility currently employs 47 people, as opposed to its usual 50, in order to respect physical distancing rules, the statement said. 

About 75 per cent of the recyclables that are sorted at the materials recovery facility are sold to recycling companies. The leftover contaminated materials go to the landfill. 

Vriend said while it's understandable that COVID-19 had an impact on the waste management centre's operations, she wishes the city was more transparent about what is happening. 

"People just want to know what's up."

The COVID-19 crisis also impacted the city's budget, prompting administrators to push back plans to roll out its waste services cart program to 2021.

"That's incredibly shortsighted," said Sean Stepchuk, co-founder of the advocacy group Waste Free Edmonton.

Under the new system, residents would be required to sort their waste into two carts: one for trash and one for organics. Recyclables would still be picked up in blue bags. 

"Doing things like this will save money in the long run, especially if you look at the entire waste system," Stepchuk said. "It is very unfortunate."

Stepchuk is also calling for the city to be up front about how recycling is handled.

"A lot of people think recycling is this magic bullet, that as long you put in the blue bag, it's going to go somewhere and be turned into something wonderful," he said. "And even under the best of times, that's not true."

Residents can improve the recycling process by checking Edmonton's Waste Wise application to find out if an item can be recycled or not. 

Still, recycling should be a last resort, Stepchuk said.

"The real solution is to stop it before it ever gets into the waste management system by reducing, reusing, repairing, those sorts of things."

Vriend has adjusted her own habits in the last week by reusing more items.

She's also storing her recyclables instead of putting them out on the curb.

"I'm going to save it, and if I end up with 12 bags of recyclables under my deck, so be it," she said.

"I would've done that all along had I known."

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