Why do we want to reduce plastics going to landfill?
In spite of continuous increases in the use of plastics since the 1970’s, landfill audits over time have regularly measured plastics in landfill at only 7 to 9% (by weight) of total materials disposed. Those percentages have remained constant for two reasons. “Down-guageing” (the use of thinner, lighter plastics with superior performance characteristics) and the success of recycling. Holding plastics at these disposed levels is a positive outcome and plastics, by design, are inert and no long-term threat to landfill. But, because plastics tend to be light, rigid and bulky, they typically occupy a disproportionate amount of space in landfill. Burial of plastics should be discouraged whenever practical. For example, foamed plastics (like cushion packaging and insulating panels) are only about 5% plastic and 95% inert gas. As an option to burial, most thermo-plastics plastics are recyclable and, once cleaned and flaked or formed as a pellet, can be re-molded into new products. Recycling is a responsible option to burial and a useful waste-minimization tool.
Is plastic being recycled here in Alberta?
Yes. Recycling of plastics in Alberta is well-established and growing. Based on a history of more than 20 years, Alberta is now home to several waste plastics processors. Early successes were founded largely on pre and post-industrial plastic scrap. Single source industrial feed-stocks tend to be uniform, of the same polymer, consistent in supply and relatively free of contamination. These materials make for excellent, sustainable recycling programs. More recently, there have been significant increases in post-consumer plastics collection and recycling. Because post-consumer plastic wastes are less uniform and often a mixture of polymers, more likely to be contaminated by content residues, post-consumer recycling can be less economic and somewhat harder to develop. However, post-consumer plastics collection for recycling is now available in all major metropolitan areas in Alberta and in nearly all small cities and towns as well.
What do the numbers on plastic containers mean? Are they important?
Individual plastic resins perform differently when cleaned, heated and processed during recycling. In order to maximize the value of reclaimed plastics the must be separated prior to recycling. To help identify specific resin types, most consumer plastics are coded with a # symbol (#1 through #7). These symbols are called Resin Identification Codes. Some recycling programs accept all numbers while others are more selective based on their ability to market the collected materials. All Alberta jurisdictions now accept common plastics containers used for beverages, lubricating oil, dairy products and others in an ever-expanding list. Contact your local recycling program to get a list of the plastic products accepted for recycling in your area. The range of recyclable plastics is also increasing with densification of cushion packaging of eps (expanded polystyrene) and recycling of agricultural plastic film and twine now available in some areas of the province.
I have some plastic, is it recyclable?
The answer in Alberta is probably yes. If you have a small amount, less than 100 kilograms, contact your local recycling depot or municipality. If you have more than 100 kilograms and produce these larger volumes as part of regular business activity, contact APRA and we may be able to help direct you to a recycler specializing in that material. Before you contact us please have answers to the following questions:
1. Check your plastics for information. Are there any indications of identification codes #1 through #7? Is there any printed indication of type of plastic, i.e. Code #, HDPE or PVC or other? Do you have more than one type of plastic? Note any information you find.
2. How and how often do you receive these plastics? Is your plastics waste a “one-time” occurrence (how much do you have now) or do you receive these types of materials regularly (how much do you generate in a month or a year)?
3. Are you able to take photos of the plastics and email them? If you can, please make sure to include something to provide perspective. As an example, park a vehicle or have an employee stand beside the plastics.
4. After completing the steps above, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at TOLL FREE 855-939-2386
What are steps to consider before I start a recycling program?
- Identify a receiver
- Assess generation – how much material do you have?
- Determine collection/densification/storage/transportation
- Design and maintain education program
- Move to market
- Strive to increase capture