Yellowknifers may believe diverting items from their trash such as cardboard, glass and tin cans and taking them to one of six blue bin locations around town means the material will be shipped south to be recycled.
Yellowknifer has learned, however, that does not appear to be happening right now.
Photos obtained by Yellowknifer reveal that multiple recycling trucks have been dumping their contents at the city’s landfill, with one photo capturing a garbage truck and a recycling truck passing each other as they dumped their contents — seemingly in the same area.
Mayor Rebecca Alty, in an email to Yellowknifer, said global changes affecting the disposal of recyclables has led the city to review its collection and diversion of waste.
“The city will be working with Ecology North to continue on our recycling efforts and explore new options that can enhance what we do,” she stated.
Additionally, staff shortages have also left the city unable to use its baler to bundle material for recycling.
“This is a temporary measure and we are working to address as quickly as we can,” she wrote. “Recycling continues to be important given its use in diverting materials and giving them second life.”
The mayor did not state how long the city’s recyclables have been sent to the landfill.
Coun. Niels Konge said the recyclables aren’t being mixed with garbage and are being stored on site for future use.
“So if the markets do change around, we have piles of this stuff,” he said.
Konge urged residents to continue sorting their recyclables.
“It’s just good practice to sort it out,” he said. “We will figure out at some point what to do with this stuff.”
“Recycling is an important thing, obviously,” he continued. “But there’s a lot of different things to that equation, a lot of world market influences that determine whether or not there’s any value in your recycling.”
He said recyclables could always be shipped south regardless, but that it would come at cost to taxpayers. If there’s no market for that recycling and it ends up in a landfill south of the NWT, it would be an unproductive use of fuel, he said.
“People should be conscious of what they’re buying, (and) how they’re buying it,” he said. “Is there a different option that has less packaging?”
In 2017, Yellowknife diverted 13 per cent of its waste — about 3,549 tonnes — sourced from residential compost and blue bin stations, in additional to industrial, commercial and institutional recycling, according to the city’s 2018 waste management plan.
Traditionally, the materials city residents patiently sort to take to blue bin stations are baled and shipped to Edmonton, where Cascades Recovery further processes them.
In 2014, Yellowknifer reported that a significant portion is shipped to Surrey B.C., where materials enter the international market. Cascades Recovery did not respond to request for comment by press time.
At the time, 35 to 40 per cent of the recyclable materials in Western Canada, much of it mixed paper, was entering the international market.
A recent Globe and Mail analysis of international trade data found a sharp drop in scrap plastic exported to Hong Kong and China, which respectively fell by 72 per cent and 96 per cent.
While easier to recycle, mixed paper exported to China also dropped 65 per cent. Additionally, alternate markets like Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, and India have all moved to restrict scrap plastic imports, The Globe reported.
When asked for comment on the recycling disposal at the dump, Ecology North, which helped found the recycling program in the 1990s, stated reducing waste is its priority.
“Reusing items is second in the hierarchy,” the organization’s compost specialist Dawn Tremblay wrote in a statement.
“While recycling is part of the picture, our priority is to advocate for waste reduction further up the supply chain. The less plastic that is created and purchased, the less plastic will be tossed into recycling bins. Reducing waste is the most effective and impactful approach to responsible waste management,” she wrote.
“We encourage the City and everyone who produces and manages waste to keep the waste hierarchy in mind. Let’s use our consumer power wisely: reduce packaging, reuse products.”