Cornwall chooses most ambitious option for public recycling

Solid waste manager Danielle Watson answers council's questions about the three options for the public recycling bin pilot project on Monday June 10, 2019 in Cornwall, Ont. Alan S. Hale/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network Alan S. Hale / Alan S. Hale/Standard-Freeholder

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If you are going to do something, you should do it right.

That was the thinking behind Cornwall city council’s decision Monday to approve an ambitious new pilot project to introduce recycling bins to public spaces around the city, starting with a select few parks this summer.

Council was presented with three possible options for how this pilot project could work. Option 1 was bins that would only collect drink containers, such as cans and plastic bottles; Option 2 would be a single bin, where people could put any kind of recycle material inside to be sorted later; and, Option 3 was for special bins with separate compartments for different kinds of recyclable materials such as plastic, aluminum and paper.

The council decided to go with Option 3, even though it will cost $43,500 to implement, which is nearly twice the cost of Option 1.

“I believe that if you are going to do something, you do it right. So my feeling is that we should go with Option 3,” said Mayor Bernadette Clement. “I would rather us do it right during these busy summer months in the park and the downtown and reduce the issue of contamination.”

Contamination of the recyclable materials was what had doomed Option 2, even though it was the one council had voted on first and it had a similar price tag to Option 1.

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The problem of putting everything together in one collection bin and then having employees at the recycling centre sort it all by hand afterwards is that it can ruin over 30 per cent of the materials due to contamination.

One frequent form of contamination is when a plastic pop bottle still has some fluid left inside and spills out all over the paper also in the bin. The paper products are then completely ruined for recycling purposes. Food waste and dog feces are even bigger risks for contamination during large summer public events if everything is dropped in one container.

Even when materials are salvageable, they will still be extremely hard to sell because of how tight the recycling market has become since China stopped accepting imported recyclable materials last year.

“Unfortunately, with the way the recycling market the way it is right now, it’s very competitive. So the cleaner your fibre (paper) material is, the better it is for revenue generation,” explained Danielle Watson, solid waste manager.

The prospect of losing up to a third of the recyclable material to contamination effectively killed any enthusiasm for Option 2. Coun. Elaine MacDonald said contamination was effectively “making garbage” and argued the city should go with Option 1, since most of the garbage in local parks is beverage containers anyway.

But most of the other councillors went the other way, looking at the more ambitious Option 3 as the best one for the pilot project, since it promised to divert the most material away from the landfill thereby putting off the expense of creating a new one.

“If we are committed to extending the life of our landfill, then an extra $15,000 (for this pilot project) isn’t staggering for the municipality int he grand scheme of things,” said Coun. Dean Hollingsworth. “If we generate any kind of revenue from our paper products – and the best chance of doing that is to have them as clean as possible – we could (offset the increased cost of the pilot project.)

If the pilot project is successful, and the sorted public recycling bins are implemented in parks across the city, it is likely to add an additional $250,000 to the solid waste budget. But it’s not clear whether revenues would be generated to offset that.

ahale@postmedia.com

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