Photo: Recycle BC

Nelson faces possible fines for recycling contamination

5.9% of blue bag contents are not recyclable

The City of Nelson is risking a fine.

The city has a contamination rate of over three per cent in the recycling it collects on behalf of Recycle BC. Contamination means material in the recycling that is not recyclable.

According to information presented to council by management staff at council’s Aug. 13 meeting, Recycle BC audited Nelson three times between December 2015 and November 2016, showing a contamination level of 8.7 per cent. Recycle BC’s acceptable level is three per cent.

In response, the city undertook a public education campaign in 2017, including direct discussions with residents. The result: an April 2017 audit that showed contamination was reduced to 5.9 per cent. According to city management staff, Recycle BC did not levy a fine because it viewed the city as being proactive.

Recycle BC is the non-profit organization that manages residential packaging and paper recycling in B.C. It collects and sells recycling in most areas of the province, at no cost to taxpayers. The cost of the collection of recycling is borne by the manufacturers of the products, who pay Recycle BC. The nonprofit then pays the city to pick up blue bags from the curb.

Last year, the city received just over $136,000 to provide the pickup service.

The city has just signed a new contract with Recycle BC, which includes potential fines of $2,500 per contaminated load in the first year, gradually increasing to $20,000 in year five.

Recycle BC has not audited Nelson since 2017 but city staff say they expect another audit in the spring of 2019.

One of the issues in the city’s new agreement with Recycle BC, according to city’s chief financial officer Colin McClure is the city’s commitment to stop collecting recycling in the single-use blue plastic bags by July 1 of 2020.

“The city has to figure out how we will collect recycling under this new model,” he said in an email, “i.e. will it be by blue container provided to residents?”

He said this will have to be decided in 2019 because it will affect what kind of vehicle the city purchases to replace the current one, which is near the end of its life.

The average recycling contamination rate for municipalities in B.C. is six per cent, according to Recycle BC’s Lyndsay Chauhan.

She told the Star that curbside contamination includes anything other than packaging and paper, typically including food, yard waste, wood, textiles, electronics, scrap metal, plastic toys, and material that is accepted only at depots, such as plastic bags, foam packaging, and glass.

The most challenging, she said, are plastic bags and hazardous materials such as propane cylinders, butane canisters, batteries, and syringes.

Plastic bags are complicated in Nelson because Recycle BC won’t take them from curbside pickup but they are accepted at the Grohman depot and other rural depots, which are run not by Recycle BC but by the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK), which has a different recycling system, at least for the time being.

Until last year, China was a major destination for recycled materials worldwide. But China withdrew from the business, complaining that recycling from the western world was too contaminated.

Chauhan said China’s withdrawal has raised the contamination bar because other destination countries have higher standards, and Recycle BC’s three per cent rule is derived from those.

“Material that is clean, properly sorted, and contains only accepted material is now more important than ever to ensure we have viable end markets for recycling all of our materials,” she said.

Details on what residents of Nelson can put in their blue bags can be found on the city’s website. Go to the RDCK website for a list of what can be recycled at Grohman Narrows or other rural depots.


• Blue recycling bags to be phased out

• Rural recycling: Nelson puts RDCK on notice

• Nelson taxpayers subsidize rural recycling

• RDCK, Recycle BC reach deal on depots

• Curbside compost pickup coming to Nelson by 2022

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