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Global recycling challenges are trickling down to The Pas


Just four decades ago recycling took off, creating an environmental movement by keeping items otherwise destined for the landfill out of those landfills.
Slowly it became a global trade with otherwise-empty freighters from China carrying back more than half the planet’s scrap cardboard and plastics after dropping off their exports.
But, the glory days of recycling came to an end in 2017 when China, as part of a crack down on pollution, announced it would stop these imports for one reason – they were too contaminated to process.
This decision sent the prices of recycleable materials tumbling and left municipalities that had relied on the sales to subsidize curbside recycling programs scrambling. The average price of used corrugated cardboard fell 36 percent immediately and has continued the downward trend.
It also hasn’t been easy to find other takers for used plastic – with lower oil prices making virgin plastic cheaper than recycled – and while other countries like India and Vietnam have been importing more recyclables, other countries, like the Philippines, are shutting down their trades, again due to contamination.
And, all of them combined don’t come close to handling the amount China once did.
The Pas and Area Recycling Centre is one of the organizations feeling the squeeze.
“Right now, cardboard is nothing,” said Marj Greenwood, manager for the centre.
“There’s too much politics involved and nobody wants (the recycling). China doesn’t want. Malaysia doesn’t want it because they got a bunch of garbage instead of recycling. The government made it bad for the recycling businesses right now.”
As an example of the price differences, Greenwood said the amount they pay for commingled – the items they don’t sort – has risen 110 percent in the last year.
“We pay for most of what leaves here,” she said. “We do sort aluminum, plastic, cardboard, shredded paper and such but it’s not worth it to sort (any further) than that.
“What we paid last year for commingled, up until August of 2018, was $45 per metric ton. After that it went up to $110.
“We’re still recycling,” she continued. “It’s just a little bit harder for us to ship right now. But, we’re still going full force.”
Greenwood said the markets have forced her to increase her funding this year in order to cover costs but no changes have been made in the split between the three funding partners – OCN, R.M. of Kelsey and Town of The Pas.
“The percentages from each party will remain the same,” she said. “This year though we are putting it into an agreement, which has never been done before.
“It’s nothing new. It’s just something that is going to be more formal.”