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On the Long and Winding Road to EPR

On the Long and Winding Road to EPR

With initiatives that continue to push it ahead of other jurisdictions in Canada, the Province of British Columbia claimed the highest grade ever - an overall A - in EPR Canada's third scored report card on implementation of EPR programs, conducted in 2015. The report card assesses the progress each jurisdiction in Canada is making in adopting EPR policies and programs in compliance with their commitment to the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment Canada-wide Action Plan on EPR that was approved in 2009. Launched in 2014 as Multi-Material BC (MMBC), Recycle BC is responsible for packaging and printed paper recycling, servicing over 1.7 million households - about 97 percent of those in the province - through curbside, multi-family or depot collection.

Recycling services are provided either directly to communities or by working in partnership with local governments, First Nations, private companies, and other non-profit organizations. 156 communities participate in Recycle BC's recycling collection program, more are serviced by our recycling depots, and each year approximately 186,000 tonnes of packaging and printed paper is collected from households and depots.

One of the first changes implemented by Recycle BC was to apply a standard set of accepted materials province-wide. Each collector who is part of our program uses the same list of recyclable materials that can be included in their curbside, multi-family or depot collection, allowing consistent messaging and education, and operationally, a streamlined post-collection infrastructure.

From there, a sophisticated province-wide post-collection network, managed by our contractor, Green by Nature, provides added consistency in how materials are handled. Paper is collected and shipped from various locations around the province directly to end markets. All containers from B.C. are baled and sent to a newly built 185,000 square-foot Container Recovery Facility (in operation since 2015) in New Westminster, B.C., located immediately southeast of the City of Vancouver. At the Container Recovery Facility, using state-of-the-art recycling equipment, containers are sorted into eight different categories. Once the processing is complete, the materials are sold to end markets.

The infrastructure was built to manage the volume and types of packaging in circulation currently, but is also flexible enough to adapt and evolve to manage an ever changing mix of materials in the recycling stream. 

With changes in technology, increasing consumer expectations for more convenient packaging and the efforts of producers to lighten their packaging weight, we are seeing rapid changes in material and packaging design that are changing the overall mix of material collected through our program. More lightweight plastic is being put through our recycling system every year, while other materials such as glass make up far less of the material collected than a decade ago. 

The composition of our paper mixture is also changing. With the rise in online purchasing and therefore shipping boxes, more cardboard (or old corrugated containers (OCC)), is being put into the paper stream. Conversely, but again as a result of the rise in digital and online consumption, there is less newsprint being produced and recycled.

We also find ourselves doing more work directly with producers to support them in their efforts to develop increasingly innovative solutions that reduce packaging or make it more recyclable. We are able to share information and advice on material choices and how certain packaging can be more effectively recycled. We can also provide access to our facilities for a variety of trials and pilots. Through this work with producers we will see more packaging that is recyclable and, in the future, more packaging made of post-consumer recycled content. 

In order to effectively support our operations work from a marketing and communications perspective, we recently rebranded from Multi-Material BC to Recycle BC, launching the new brand as of March 28, 2017. 

Our business focuses on three main stakeholder groups: residents of B.C., collectors, and the producers of packaging and printed paper. We want to ensure we can effectively support each one of these groups in achieving its goals, while also achieving our own. 

We interact with residents more now than we ever have in the past, and are directly responsible for recycling services in 12 service areas covering 28 communities around B.C. This represents approximately 380,000 households that receive all their recycling collection information directly from Recycle BC. We also have a province-wide mandate for packaging and printed paper recycling promotion and education.

With the change of name to Recycle BC, we feel we have created a brand that is intuitive, relevant and engaging, and will allow us to strengthen connections with residents and support recycling education and promotion. In addition, we feel we can better support collectors and producers.

In the years ahead, we look forward to adding more communities and potentially more accepted materials to our program. We will continue to build on existing producer partnerships and explore new ones to support packaging design and recyclability. We will continue to work closely with and support our collectors, utilizing one post-collection system, a consistent material list and easy-to-use resources. And we will work to increase connections with residents, provide resources and education, and be a resource for packaging and printed paper recycling in B.C. 

Together, we are all part of our provincial recycling story and together we can make a difference. 

As the first 100-percent-EPR program for printed paper and packaging in Canada and as one of the most advanced recycling systems for these materials in the world, Recycle BC looks forward to continuing to play a critical role in the future of recycling in Canada and North America.

This article was originally published in Recycling Product News, Volume 25, Number 4, May/June, 2017.

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230-171 Esplanade West
North Vancouver, BC
CA, V7M 3J9


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