Charlotte Davis

Charlotte Davis

High contamination rates in Nanaimo prompt warning on recycling

NANAIMO – The City of Nanaimo recently got a warning from Multi-Material B.C. for high contamination rates.

Nanaimo homeowners who break recycling rules will get one strike before bags are left at the curb.

The City of Nanaimo plans to get tough with residents who don’t put the right material in recycling bags after the municipality recently got a warning from Multi-Material B.C. for high contamination rates in the last few months. That means residents who break the rules will get one warning before their recycling bag is left at the curb.

MMBC, which hires the city to collect recycling waste, did a random audit in October and found 14 per cent of recycling waste was contaminated with things like plastic bags, glass, styrofoam and a children’s swimming pool. It requires the municipality to have a three-per cent contamination rate.

The 14 per cent is one audit, and the municipality typically sits around seven per cent, but it is “bad,” according to Allen Langdon, managing director of MMBC.

MMBC has the ability to fine the city up to $120,000 a year if contamination rates aren’t lowered, but Langdon said it’s a tool of last resort for collectors not in co-operation with MMBC and it’s never had to institute it. Most municipalities take pride in their systems, and work with MMBC to reduce contamination, said Langdon.

The city has announced it’s rolling out an action plan with curbside inspections this November, communication for residents and stickers that will either warn homeowners they’ve got an unacceptable item in their recycling bag, or praise them for recycling right. The cost to the city is an additional  $15,000.

“We are going to be getting firmer now,” said Charlottte Davis, manager of sanitation, recycling and public works administration. “If we see residents repeatedly putting the wrong thing in the yellow bag, unfortunately it doesn’t seem they are learning the lesson so what we’re going to be doing is leaving the whole bag behind.”

Davis said the goal has been to meet MMBC’s contamination threshold and rates of 14 per cent is worrying to her.

The city does not accept all recyclable items, like glass, plastic bags and books, instead asking residents to take those items to depots where they can be sorted separately. Plastic bags can become tangled in recycling in the truck and glass jars and styrofoam break into small pieces and can contaminate the entire load, said Davis.

Items not supposed to be in curbside recycling bags can result in the loads heading to the landfill. Davis doesn’t believe an entire load has gone to the landfill but chunks have.

“Ultimately we want our recycling turned back into useful products. If they are becoming landfilled that’s really sad and also if there’s lots of contamination and that does get recycled, what it means is these products are of a much lower value,” she said.