Toronto

Garbage, recycling in the same truck? Why it happens, and why some say it's concerning

Diana Vela saw waste collectors from GFL International Inc. (GFL) throwing both garbage and recycling into the same compartment of a truck earlier this month, but according to the company, the workers did nothing wrong.

No oversight or regulations governing privately-contracted curbside services, critics warn

York resident Diana Vela says she looked out her window June 4 to see collectors with GFL Environmental Inc. putting garbage and recycling into the same container on their truck. (Submitted by Diana Vela)

Diana Vela considers herself an environmentally friendly person.

She recycles, and even though her apartment near Bathurst Street and Eglinton Avenue West doesn't collect compost — something she's actively trying to change — she'll store it in her freezer and take it to a proper bin later.

So earlier this month, when Vela says she saw waste collectors from GFL International Inc. throwing both garbage and recycling into the same compartment of a truck, she said she was disappointed.

"I just try to do everything I can to help, but it's really discouraging … if it just goes into the same bin at the end of the day," she said.

But according to GFL, they didn't do anything wrong.

GFL's director of commercial operations for the GTA, Mauro Rossi, said about two years ago, they started to collect both garbage and recycling in the same truck at about 20 to 30 apartments and condos where they're privately contracted in the city.

Owners of apartments and condos have the option to contract out their own services or use the city's.

GFL says they started to mix garbage and recycling to reduce their carbon footprint and better recycle materials from apartments and condos. (CBC)

Rossi said bins at high rises typically aren't that well sorted to begin with, so they send the garbage and recycling to a mixed-waste processing facility to ensure everything that can be diverted is separated.

"What we're trying to do is maximize our recycling program," Rossi said.

But some in the industry say they aren't sure the method is helpful, since garbage can contaminate recyclables, and on top of that, there's no oversight to check if they're doing a good job.

The case for separation

Jo-Anne St. Godard, the director of the Recycling Council of Ontario, said she's never heard of mixed garbage and recycling pick-ups in the GTA.

"I can't imagine it's more effective and efficient to mix garbage and recyclables," she said.

"It's not common for sure, because global markets are asking for cleaner material, so it seems odd."

Companies contracted by the city still collect separately.

Matt Keliher, the general manager for the City of Toronto's Solid Waste Management Services, said mixing recycling with garbage can lower the quality of recyclables and possibly cause them to be sent to a landfill.

"The markets that buy paper and cardboard, in particular, are looking for a very clean product," he said.

"Separating recycling from the other streams allows the city to maximize the amount of material that is being recycled into something new."

Canada Fibers Ltd. co-owner Joe Miranda says they're able to recover 70 to 80 per cent of recyclable materials from loads. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

But Rossi said when GFL used to pick up just the blue bin contents, pieces of garbage would end up in shipments to customers buying the recyclables — namely, overseas markets such as Malaysia and the Philippines.

"In the past we were able to send everything over there," he said.

"They're really tightening it down so we really have to take one more step to ensure the materials going across are acceptable," so they aren't turned back, Rossi said, which his company would have to pay for. 

He says using mixed-waste processing facilities ensures recyclables from high-rise clients meet those standards.

Joe Miranda, the co-founder of Canada Fibers Ltd., the facility that sorts the materials for GFL, said they recover 80 to 90 per cent of plastics from commingled loads, but the amount can go down depending on how contaminated the recyclables are.

Staff sort through materials at the Canada Fibers Ltd. plant in North York. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Recycling oversight

Still, St. Godard said, it's hard to track if the method is actually working.

When multi-residential buildings contract out curbside services to private companies, they're categorized as part of the industrial, commercial, institutional (ICI) sector, rather than the municipal sector.

"The issue is we don't have any regulations that require the ICI sector to hit recycling targets like we do in the municipal sector," St. Godard said.

"Without targets, you don't have reporting and monitoring."

Meanwhile, St. Godard said most of the materials ending up in landfills are from the ICI sector — places like malls, construction sites and hospitals, as well as high-rises.

It's up to the owners of buildings and companies to monitor the work of the private collection company they choose.

Gary Wheeler, the spokesperson for the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, confirmed that right now there are no legal requirements when it comes to the diversion of recyclable materials in the ICI sector, but they're studying different ways to approach it.

GFL Environmental Inc. fined $1,000

Of note, all parties emphasized compost should never be mixed in with any other curbside pick-up, as it would most definitely contaminate loads.

GFL is an environmental solutions company that collects, transports and sorts garbage, recycling and compost across North America. (GFL)

GFL recently was fined $1,000 by the Town of Newmarket after resident Ashley Arkeveld caught a worker in her neighbourhood going up the street, throwing garbage, recycling and compost from each home into one compartment.

"It's really important in the face of an environmental crisis we are doing everything possible to ensure we're doing our part," Arkeveld said.

"It's really disheartening to see when it's not getting done."

Residents like Arkeveld say they just want to make sure their efforts to make a difference aren't wasted.

"I think people are becoming even more aware of the problems we're faced with and the small amount of time we have to rectify things."

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