City, province vow to find solutions as company threatens to close 4 recycling centres

TIRU, which manages four recycling centres in Quebec, says it can't handle the volume of recyclable material, which has increased since China announced it would stop accepting contaminated materials such as soiled paper and glass.

TIRU says it can't handle the volume of material after China banned importing waste

TIRU, which runs four recycling centres in Quebec, says the crisis caused by higher Chinese standards on imported recycled materials is making it too difficult to operate. (Martin Thibault/Radio-Canada)

As a company threatens to close four recycling centres across the province, Quebec Environment Minister Benoit Charette says he wants to prevent recyclable material from going to landfill "at all costs."

The company, TIRU, says it can't handle the volume of material it has to deal with.

 In a release Thursday, Groupe RSC, a subsidiary of TIRU, said it had been steadily losing revenue since Oct. 2019 because of a global paper-recycling crisis, with the closing down of plants in China and India.

"The sale of paper constituted a major part of Groupe RSC's revenue. This drastic shift in the world market of recycled paper was already a considerable expense for Groupe RSC, despite the efforts from some municipalities and public aid," the group said. 

It sent a letter to the City of Montreal saying it needs more money or will be forced to close. The city has bailed out the company before, and says it can't afford to pay again.

Charette said his government wants to find solutions, but he would not commit to contributing money.

"It's a question about organization at this moment. We will have to talk about money later, but at this moment, we just want to make sure this site won't close its doors in the coming days," he said.

The province, City of Montreal, TIRU and Recyc-Québec, the agency that advises the government on reducing waste, will discuss the situation at a meeting Friday.

TIRU has facilities in Lachine and Saint-Michel, as well as centres in Châteauguay and Saguenay. It is threatening to close all four.

The City of Saguenay also received a letter, and says it will be reviewing its options in the coming weeks. 

The Montreal centres treat about 160,000 tonnes of material per year.

"What I'm hoping for is whatever comes out tomorrow out of this meeting with TIRU is that the government will be by our side to find a solution," Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante told reporters Thursday.

She said the city will be looking into ways of making sure recyclable matter does not end up in landfills. 

"Let's not forget that our recycling centre supports other cities, not only Montreal, so it helps the entire metropolitan area," Plante said. 

She called on the parties to use Friday's meeting as a way to develop a long-term vision.

Recyc-Québec said it is also preoccupied by the company's demands, but would not comment specifically on the situation.

In a statement, it said sorting centres are usually particularly full in January, after the holidays, and acknowledged some have had difficulties trying to get rid of their stock.

Threat of closing is an ultimatum, says environmentalist

Karel Ménard, executive director of the Quebec Coalition of Ecological Waste Management, said it's not unusual for a sorting centre to close for a few weeks once or twice a year.

But he said what TIRU is doing amounts to an ultimatum to pressure Montreal into paying up.

If Montreal does pay, it shouldn't hand over a blank cheque, he said — the conditions should be strict.

Should the centres close, Ménard said he expects some of the materials from Montreal will be diverted to other sorting centres in Quebec.

Karel Ménard says the potential closures of the sorting centres would be huge, but governments can't keep throwing money at them to keep them open. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

He said a big part of the problem is how recyclable materials are collected in Montreal — there should be different collection days for paper fibres versus plastic, glass and other materials.

Ménard said what's worrisome about recyclable material going to a landfill is the possibility that people may stop recycling altogether.

"If people don't believe in curbside collection anymore … there is no need to have sorting centres, there is no need to have a recycling industry," he said.

"The main link in the chain is the citizens. So if citizens lose confidence, you've lost everything."

with files from Cathy Senay, Verity Stevenson, Elias Abboud, Sudha Krishnan and Radio-Canada


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