Eastern Ontario recycling heading to the landfill

The Township of North Glengarry, Ont., is having to send some of its recyclable materials to the landfill as Chinese restrictions on foreign waste have closed a market for resale and slowed the processing of recyclables.

Several Canadian municipalities struggling to find place for waste

Newspaper is among the material the Township of North Glengarry, Ont., has to send to the landfill since it's facing a squeeze on storage as a result of China's recent waste importation rules. (Kevin Coombs/Reuters)

The Township of North Glengarry, Ont., is having to send some of its recyclable materials to the landfill as Chinese restrictions on foreign waste have closed a market for resale and slowed the processing of recyclables.

Nearly half the world's recyclables were being to sent to China, when China decided to crack down on imports of four classes of recycled materials, including plastics and unsorted paper.

Although the ban didn't take full effect until Dec. 31, 2017, many Chinese companies stopped accepting foreign recycling materials months earlier, leaving some Canadian cities with stockpiles of flattened cardboard and crushed plastic without anywhere to send it.

Ryan Morton, North Glengarry director of public works, said the change in Chinese rules combined with provincial regulations about how much can be stored at the facility (about 650 tonnes) have forced them to move material to the landfill.

"We don't take pride in sending this stuff to the landfill, but also, at the same time, we don't want to exceed our environmental compliance approval and be faced with fines and charges and everything else," Morton said.

Morton said the municipality is working to improve efficiency at the facility and is checking with Ontario's Ministry of Environment and Climate Change to see if other storage solutions might be possible.

Ontario's Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change said it's monitoring the effect of the Chinese ban on scrap material on municipalities and is encouraging producers to increase the recyclable content in their products. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

A spokesperson for the ministry said it is monitoring the impact of the Chinese ban on scrap material and is working with municipalities to gauge the impact. 

The township's recycling facility is running at half speed due to new cleaning requirements for recycled material and lower grade newsprint is being shipped to the landfill, Morton said.

The costs, foregone revenues and impact on the lifespan of the township's landfill are all still being calculated, according to Morton.

"We could've very well consumed one year or two years of that lifespan from this issue resulting this year."

Ottawa doesn't sell to China

Nearly 60 per cent of recycled material from Quebec municipalities was heading to China before the ban came into effect. A Winnipeg facility asked for $1.5 million over two years to upgrade its facilities to meet the new standards.

The City of Ottawa has been somewhat lucky. 

A staff report says the blue and black bin programs didn't sell any of the banned materials to China before the rules came into effect.

The report, which was tabled in the city's environment and climate committee March 26, said the city may see prices for newsprint being driven down in the short term, "which may impact the city's revenues."

It said February 2018 market data showed an 80 per cent drop in newsprint-only revenue compared to the previous year.

The report said the majority of Ottawa's recycable material are sold to domestic or North American markets and is pursuing a strategy to ensure the highest price for the city.