Thunder Bay

Expansion of recycling program in Thunder Bay goal for 2021 and beyond

The long-term solid waste master plan in Thunder Bay, Ont., has some ambitious goals over the next couple of years, including accepting more items for curbside recycling, and organics collection.

City eyes organics collection, more plastics allowed in blue bags

Jason Sherband, the manager of solid waste and recycling services in Thunder Bay, says the goal in 2021 and beyond is to have an organics collection program, and accept plastics #1 through #7. (Jason Sherband/City of Thunder Bay)

The long-term solid waste master plan in Thunder Bay, Ont., has some ambitious goals over the next couple of years, including accepting more items for curbside recycling, and organics collection.

City council will receive an update on Monday night as to how the plan is proceeding.

The COVID-19 pandemic reversed the city's trend of sending less garbage to landfill, and increasing recycling targets.

In 2020, 48,505 metric tonnes of waste was generated by the residential waste stream, with a diversion rate of 25 per cent, or 12,233 metric tonnes.

Those figures are slightly higher than the 46,004 metric tonnes of waste generated in 2019, with a diversion rate of 27 per cent, or 12,204 metric tonnes.

One potential reason is more PPE being used in 2020, and people using the pandemic as a reason to clean up their homes and garages.

While the pandemic may be a statistical waste blip, the two major goals, accepting more materials into blue bags, and curbside organics will happen, said Jason Sherband, the city's manager of solid waste and recycling services.

"So we want to take another deeper dive and see if some of that remaining material we can capture this time around. So we're going to go through that exercise," Sherband said.

A major challenge in the recycling industry, he said, is access to markets, and ensuring the market for the material is stable. 

Sherband said an expansion though of Thunder Bay's system in 2020, to accept all #1 and #2 plastics was well received, noting recycling volumes increased. However, that cannot be fully attributed to the program expansion, noting more people were at home, and consumption patterns changed because of the pandemic.

"We captured a lot of additional plastic, and when you really look at the program right now, we're not really missing that much," Sherband said, noting when the province goes to a common collection system in the next couple of years, all plastics should be recycled.

A goal of Thunder Bay's long-term solid waste management strategy is to have more items allowed in blue bags for recycling pickup. (CBC)

"There are some plastics in the three to sevens that, look at yogurt containers and margarine tubs," that people want to desperately recycle, he said.

The city also allows for recycling of aluminum pie plates and foil, he said, as long as it is clean. One major issue with recycling in the city continues to be contamination of products.

The addition of an organics program will be mandatory by 2025, Sherband said, noting that planning for that program expansion will start this year.

"But we really [have] got to start the process now of looking at how do we integrate that into our solid waste system." 

"They sort of go hand in hand. We've had this, you know, embedded in our master plan for for a while. We want to have a look at the automated collection piece for the garbage side of things and do the business case."

Sherband said the city does have opportunities to expand its recycling program, as its current contract has options for expanding the 'basket of goods' picked up at curbside.

Marathon, along the north shore of Lake Superior recently expanded its recycling program with GFL Environmental to include plastics #1 through #7.

Sherband said not all municipalities have the same contracts with recycling providers, meaning some municipalities are able to accept more materials than others — but the city is working on being able to pick up more materials.

"I think we've got to remember and not forget that we have taken some strides here when it comes to managing waste here in the city of Thunder Bay," he said. 

"People look at other communities, they want to be able to do maybe what they're doing. I always try to tell people every municipality is different."


Jeff Walters


Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff is proud to work in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario. Away from work, you can find him skiing (on water or snow), curling, out at the lake or flying.


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