Recycling 'crisis' leaves Cosmo Industries in the red after China's crackdown on foreign waste

A Saskatoon business is feeling the pinch as China cracks down on foreign waste and recyclables.
Cosmopolitan Industries routinely sees bicycles, dirty diapers and garden hoses come in with permitted recyclables. (Courtney Markewich/CBC)

China's 2018 restriction on foreign recyclables puts pressure on the entire industry and Saskatoon-based social enterprise Cosmo Industries is also feeling the pinch.

Before the ban, Canada and other countries sent material needed for manufacturing in China — and made a large profit; the country represented a quarter of the world market for recyclabes.

While China builds its own domestic market, foreign shippers are suffering financially without the return they used to rely on.

"It's an unprecedented attack on recycling," said Ken Gryschuck, manager of business development and community relations at Cosmo. "Prices have just dropped to the floor."

A few years ago, milk jugs brought in a return of approximately $775 per ton. Now the same amount goes for $175. Old cardboard prices have suffered a 90 per cent drop.

Cosmo tries to cope

'China isn't the bad guy,' says Manager of Business Development and Community Relations Ken Gryschuck. Even so, Saskatoon's social enterprise will run a deficit this year, in part due to China's crackdown on foreign recyclables. (Rosalie Woloski/CBC)

The sting of China's ban is especially painful for Cosmopolitan Industries, which has long supported individuals with intellectual disabilities.

"We have a thing called an inspiration guide. So we use funds from recycling and from shredding programs for people," said Gryschuck.

"You can go to the website and say 'Oh, it costs around $3,000 for art supplies for the Cosmo program. I'm interested in art. I could help sponsor that.'"

The new program is an attempt to bring in more money to run the operation. Gryschuck said Cosmo is focusing on education in order to cut costs. The materials sent to be processed must be cleaner to increase efficiency.

"We spend between $130,000 and $150,000 on things that should never be in the recycling bin to start with."

The centre routinely sees materials like bicycles, dirty diapers and garden hoses come in with permitted recyclables

'China's not the bad guy'

China's crackdown on foreign recyclables has put pressure on the North American and European markets, but Gryschuck doesn't blame the country.

The recycling that was sent to China prior to 2018 was "really bad," he said.

Some importers were lax in their rules specifying clean materials.

"They decided they want to clean it up and wanted to create their own recycling domestic industry."

Cosmopolitan Industries is closing four of its smaller recycling depots in Saskatoon. (Cosmopolitan Industries)

Municipalities may have to look closer at single stream recycling where people put all recyclables in one bin, which costs money to sort and increases contamination.

Cosmopolitan Industries has been recycling in Saskatoon since 1971 and it has seen hardship and recessions before.

"But it feels different than the ones in the past because it will affect so many municipalities."

People in Saskatoon can help, though. The well-meaning 'wishful recyclers'  use their bins, but they don't always drop their materials in the right one. Others just don't care — those are the people emptying kitty litter and diapers into the recycling bin.

Further education may help them become better recyclers. Cosmo is trying to train future recyclers and teach them about the process — and the core of the organization.

"We teach them about the contribution of people with disabilities in the community," said Gryschuck

"They don't deserve to to be having to sift through kitty litter."

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning


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