New Brunswick

Plastic bags are banned, recycled or trashed, depending on where in N.B. you live

After decades of using, and throwing away, tonnes of plastic grocery bags, a lot has changed at New Brunswick landfills since 2018, when China and other Asian countries stopped accepting most of Canada's recycling.

Some waste commissions recycle, others don't, but a ban on bags could reduce need for recycling

Fredericton Region Solid Waste says it's always found a market for its recycling because the material is clean and well-sorted. (Brad Janes/Fredericton Region Solid Waste)

After decades of using, and throwing away, tonnes of plastic grocery bags, a lot has changed at New Brunswick waste facilities since 2018 when China and other Asian countries stopped accepting most of Canada's recycling.

Depending on where you live in the province, plastics like grocery bags are now either going straight to the landfill or are  being sold to recycling plants in Canada and the eastern U.S. to make more plastic products.

In Moncton, the 16 tonnes of plastic bags that arrived each month had no where to go for nearly 2½ years, but in November 2019 a buyer was finally found.

Gena Alderson, waste diversion co-ordinator for the Southeast Regional Service Commission and Eco 360, said finding a buyer for 800 tonnes of plastics was 'a huge win' for the region. (Kate Letterick/CBC News)

"That was a huge win for us," said Gena Alderson, waste diversion co-ordinator for the Southeast Regional Service Commission and Eco 360.

"Luckily for southeastern New Brunswick, we didn't have to landfill any of that material — we were able to stockpile until we found that new market."

According to Alderson, 800 tonnes of plastics have been shipped out to be recycled in the past year. 

Greater Moncton enacted a bag ban in October of 2020, and although Alderson doesn't have any figures, "anecdotally, there probably are less," bags entering the facility.

The name of the company that accepts the commission's soft plastic is, according to Alderson, a trade secret.

She said recycling is, "a competitive market," but the company the commission is selling to has plants in Canada and in the northeastern United States.

"They turn it into pellets and then those are used to make new plastic products," like more plastic bags, said Alderson.

Brad Janes, manager of marketing and public education at Fredericton Region Solid Waste, said the region has consistently had a market for its recycling because its product is clean and properly sorted.

Brad Janes of Fredericton Region Solid Waste said there are no stockpiled bags at the moment but he added it's cyclical. Sometimes a bale of recyclable material sits for a while, but so far buyers have always been found. (Brad Janes/Fredericton Region Solid Waste)

"It's been business as usual," said Janes.

Fredericton does not have a ban on plastic bags, but a newly formed environmental stewardship committee voted last week to begin public consultations on the issue.

Plastic bags bound for landfill

Other regions have taken a different approach. The Fundy Regional Service Commission decided to get out of the business of recycling plastic bags altogether. The change was implemented in March 2020. 

"We had been struggling with trying to find a market for plastic bags for over two years," said Brenda MacCallum, public relations and program development officer at the commission.

"It's just not something that is easy to recycle, nor is there a reliable market," said MacCallum.

But an important part of the decision to stop recycling plastic bags was to start working with municipalities on bylaws to ban single-use bags.

Brenda MacCallum, public relations and program development officer for Fundy Region Service Commission, said a reliable market for recyclables was hard to find so the commission stopped accepting plastic bags and has worked to have them banned instead. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

MacCallum said that step is moving ahead and going well.

"The Town of Quispamsis has already passed its third and final reading, and our other municipalities are all in the process," she said.

The hope is that plastic bags will be banned across the Fundy region's collection area, including Saint John, Grand Bay-Westfield, Hampton, Quispamsis, Rothesay and St. Martins by the end of June. 

Of the 40 tonnes of plastic bags that MacCallum had stockpiled, "a small portion" were recycled, but most are expected to end up in the landfill.

The Northwest Regional Service Commission, which serves Edmundston and smaller communities in the northwest from Lac Baker to Saint-Quentin to New Denmark, started a curbside recycling program last year.

It also does not recycle plastic bags, and Edmundston doesn't have a ban on bags in place.

"They go in the landfill," said Scott Couturier, interim director of solid waste at the commission. He said the hope is that the new recycling program will divert 15 to 20 per cent of recyclables away from the garbage.

The end is near for plastic bags and other use plastics, nationwide. The federal government is following through on a 2019 election promise by banning single-use plastics by the end of 2021.

About the Author

Tori Weldon

Reporter

Tori Weldon is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been working for the CBC since 2008.

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