Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay to accept more types of plastics for curbside recycling pickup

Starting July 1, you can put a few more items in your blue bag for recycling pickup in Thunder Bay.
The City of Thunder Bay will allow more types of plastic to be collected during curbside recycling pickup. (CBC)

Starting July 1, you can put a few more items in your blue bag for recycling pickup in Thunder Bay.

City council voted Monday night to renew a contract with GFL Environmental, the current company picking up and sorting Thunder Bay's recyclables. The contract will have GFL pick up all #1 and #2 plastics, including clamshell containers which usually hold produce, and not just plastic bottles.

The seven-year contract, which can be renewed for a period of up to 10 years, has a value of just over $3 million per year. The current contract is due to expire at the end of June, which was one of the first items approved by city council in late 2018.

Jason Sherband, the city's manager of solid waste, told council there is a demand for more items to be included in the municipal recycling program. The expected cost of adding in all #1 and #2 plastics is about $60,000 per year.

That total will be offset by a new revenue sharing component, where the city and contractor will split any revenue 50/50 from the recycled materials. However, the deal allows for the city to also contribute to any losses in revenue.

Coun. Andrew Foulds wanted to go one step further, and include all plastics, in the municipal recycling program. He landed support from council colleagues Shelby Ch'ng and Cody Fraser.

Foulds said this was the first time since he had been on council that the city had the chance to increase the amount of material accepted for recycling. While he admitted any improvement is a positive step, he said there is great public demand to accept all plastics.

Sherband agreed there was a demand for the service, but said the city should take small steps when accepting more materials. He said the best scenario was to wait a year, and see how recycling revenues could be used to offset taking more material.

Taking plastics three through seven would cost about $180,000 per year, Sherband said, and he cautioned that new recycling revenues would probably not cover that cost. However, the addition of all number one and two plastics would be mostly covered by the revenue sharing agreement.

However, landfilling material also has a cost, said Ch'ng, by taking up space in landfill, as well as collection.

It is still cheaper to throw away plastic than recycling, said Sherband, although he said the city's end goal was to accept materials with numbers one through seven.

Council voted down Foulds' resolution to start taking in plastics three through seven, but did agree to get a report from administration before the 2021 budget is approved on what the program would cost.

The report in a year would allow the city to get a bit of a handle on how much revenue it's bringing in from current recyclables, and determine what the actual cost would be of accepting all plastic.

The provincial funding model for recycling will also change in the next five years, with the province shifting from municipalities and producers paying for blue box programs, to having only producers pay for recycling programs.

That change will allow the city to accept more materials as well, Sherband said.

The changes to the recycling program in the city are still for households and multi-residential properties only. Thunder Bay does not have a municipal recycling program for businesses.