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NLers trashed a lot of recycling last year — and a lot of change to go with it

More than 300 million deposit-bearing beverage containers were purchased in the province last year, but less than two-thirds were returned for refunds. (John Gaudi/CBC )

Data from the Multi-Materials Stewardship Board shows Newfoundlanders and Labradorians missed out on a lot of recycling refunds last year — to the tune of more than $6 million.

Of the more than 300 million beverage containers purchased in the province last year that could be returned to a Green Depot for a refund, fewer than two-thirds actually made it. 

Gary Ryan, director of programs for the MMSB, says although 83 per cent of people live within 20 kilometres of a Green Depot, the province’s dispersed population poses the biggest challenge when it comes to changing recycling habits.

“I mean, we’re spread out all over God’s creation,” he said. “It’s challenging because we have a balance of delivering service within a reasonable budget.” 

Ryan said attitudes around recycling also need to change, chiefly among people between 18 and 34.

“They’re not doing as much as they can do as it relates to participating and recycling beverage containers,” he said. “And we would like to do more with that particular segment.”

Gary Ryan says accessibility to Green Depots and poor attitudes among 18-34-year-olds are the biggest challenges when it comes to changing recycling habits in the province. (Mike Simms/CBC)

Ryan said the average household in Newfoundland and Labrador tosses as many as six recyclable beverage containers in the garbage every week. That’s up to 66 million containers — worth between five and 10 cents each — going to the landfill every year.

City hoping for recycling boost in 2022

Roughly three per cent of deposit-bearing containers recycled in the province are collected through curbside recycling programs, which are now available in most municipalities in the province.

And while they don’t offer refunds to individuals, curbside programs generate savings and revenue for municipalities.

St. John’s Coun. Sandy Hickman says putting recyclables in separate bags at the curb saves the city money, as tipping fees for garbage are nearly four times those for recyclables.

Mixing recyclables with garbage also means municipalities miss out on revenue, since market demand for metals, plastics and other recyclables is high.

The Multi-Materials Stewardship Board offers a five-cent refund on most beverage containers returned to any of its 55 Green Depots. (Mike Simms/CBC)

“It’s much more important to the city’s bottom line as well to have people increase and enhance their recycling as best as possible.”

Hickman said the city’s Curb It program has a capture rate of about 46 per cent — that’s the percentage of recyclables making it to the curb — a figure he hopes will increase when the city starts requiring clear bags in January.

“We hope that people will see that as another step forward, a little nudge to increase and make sure they are doing everything they can to recycle all the materials that they can,” he said.

St. John’s Coun. Sandy Hickman says the city’s Curb It program has a catch rate of about 46 per cent.

But recycling benefits go beyond the financial, Ryan said. Aluminum — the most common material collected at Green Depots — is recycled into automotive and other lightweight materials. Plastics, he said, are used for insulation, car parts, furniture and other containers.

Statistics provided by the MMSB show curbside programs collected about 25 per cent fewer deposit-bearing containers in 2020, when the pandemic hit, compared with the previous year.

Many municipalities suspended their programs when non-essential services were shut down in March 2020.

And while Green Depots saw a drop of more than 50 per cent in returns during the spring of 2020, Jackie O’Brien, senior marketing and communications officer for the MMSB, said numbers this past spring were up about 15 per cent.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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