Greater Victoria’s recycling plant processes an average of about 66,000 kilograms of materials per day – the weight equivalent to processing 28 Chevy Silverado trucks – in a plant just over 30,000 square-feet.
Accessed off Bridge Street, the Cascades Recovery warehouse and yard in Rock Bay processes a total of 1,980 metric tonnes per month from the Blue Box program, with an overall volume of approximately 4,200 metric tonnes per month. That includes the region’s commercial customers (think big box and grocery stores).
Materials are sorted along conveyor belts in massive machines, by workers driving Bobcat machines, and by hand. All this on a lot that’s just about two acres in size. At Cascades, as it is at other recycling plants in B.C., the materials are crushed and packed into bales for shipping. The goods go to China, to India and to the U.S., while much of it stays here in Canada.
And while there are markets that buy post-consumer recyclables as a commodity, recycling is not a for-profit business, with costs that far outweigh the revenue, said Lyndsey Chauhan, spokesperson for Recycle BC.
“Generally, the end-markets remain relatively consistent, but the markets do change… local and international markets pay for these goods. Our plastics stay in B.C. for recycling. Markets for these goods also fluctuate, just like any other market.”
Revenues for post-consumer goods are important to help offset costs.
With China cracking down on what it will import as of December 2017, Recycle BC has had to find new markets.
For now, plastics and glass mostly stay in B.C. Metals, such as aluminum and tin cans, and packaging lids, are largely sold to end-markets in Ontario, with the rest either remaining in B.C. or sent to the United States, Chauhan said. The majority of paper/fibres, including aseptic/polycoat containers, are sold to end-markets overseas, including China. Again, the rest remains in B.C.
Up to December China was among the main purchasers for recycled paper, until it essentially banned the import of all post-consumer recycled paper, Chauhan added. Last year, mixed-waste paper was being sold for approximately $80/tonne, this year, it’s down to $0 a tonne.
“Not a typo,” Chauhan said.
Realistically, $80 was already a pretty good deal for 1,000 kilograms of paper product. Compare that to the cost of producing 1,000 kgs of new paper products, from logging, to pulp mill, to press.
As for Cascades, the plant is the hub for the CRD’s curbside Blue Box recycling program, where Emterra’s (which is headquartered one block over on John Street) trucks bring in the plastic, paper, glass and plastic.
One of the biggest changes this year was the Blue Box program amending its sorting to have residents separate glass into its own bins. If glass isn’t sorted, Emterra’s pick-up employees can leave the mixed box of plastic and glass at your curb, with a polite note to separate the glass. Glass also needs to be rinsed out, otherwise it’s considered contaminated when it reaches Cascades, which demands extra time and resources from the 30-or-so employees who work Monday to Friday at the plant.
“Contamination is common,” said Cascades supervisor Rob Cook.
Commercial accounts will often have contamination levels around 20 per cent, which is an extra fee but one they’re often willing to pay, as it costs more time sorting it at Cascades.
The Blue Box program has its share of contamination costs but these are unseen by taxpayers, Chauhan said.
“[Contamination] doesn’t directly cost the taxpayers/CRD more money for additional sorting, however, it does cost the Recycle BC program money (funded by the businesses that supply paper and packaging to B.C. consumers).”