In the wake of the Christmas holidays, Jasper’s residential recycling depots are full-to-bursting with plastic packaging, flattened cardboard boxes and licked-clean cranberry sauce cans.
Unfortunately, in harmony with the bloated waste streams, a quick peek at local social media platforms shows that when it comes to reliable information on how and what is able to be properly recycled in this community, there is an equal amount of contaminated information, flimsy, reused opinions and garbage posing as gospel.
The Jasper Local talked to the Municipality of Jasper’s Director of Operations, John Greathead, to help separate fact from fiction, and in doing so, find out if it’s worth separating our tin from our trash.
Those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stoneware
Let’s get the bad news out of the way right off the hop: along with the rest of the household waste that Jasper sends there, the glass you meticulously wash, sort and haul down to the recycling centre in the Jasper Activity Centre parking lot is going…right to the Hinton landfill.
Although glass lasts eons, because of its weight and its propensity to break and contaminate single stream recycling, even though it could be sustainably recycled, the unfavourable economics of recycling glass have pretty much forced the hand of the industry.
“No one’s recycling glass in Alberta,” Greathead says.
Historically, Jasper has separated glass from its garbage. Because again, theoretically, it is able to be recycled effectively. But when our glass recycling gets contaminated with stoneware and ceramics, for example, it becomes valueless to recyclers.
All of this adds up to a rather depressing situation for the future of an organic material which should be infinitely recyclable. As it stands, the U.S. landfills enough glass to fill two Empire State Buildings top to bottom every three weeks.
“Right now I don’t see a future in it,” Greathead shrugged.
Is it worth it to separate glass from the waste stream?
Nope. At least not for the foreseeable future (sigh).
Despite what you might have read on Facebook, unlike our glass jars, there are buyers for Jasper’s recycled tin cans. But they aren’t the same brokers that buy scrap metal, which is why Jasper bought a tin bailer last year.
Since Jasper bought the bailer, the town has been able to sell its tin (for about $500/metric tonne).
Is it worth it to separate tin from the waste stream?
Yes. Keep triple-rinsing those kidney bean cans.
In terms of waste streams, cardboard used to fetch a fairly pretty penny, and because Jasper’s cardboard was so clean, for years the municipality could rake in between $100 and $150/metric tonne for its bailed cardboard. Then, in 2022, like a soggy pizza box, the market collapsed and Jasper was all of a sudden paying about $300/bail to have it hauled away.
“It’s getting harder and harder to do the right thing,” Greathead said at this time last year.
Happily, doing the right thing was made a bit easier recently. Jasper found a new cardboard handler and can now fetch a bit of coin for its bailed cardboard. But it still costs way more to collect it. Recently, council made a decision to shift more of the cost burden of recycling our mountains of cardboard on those who produce more of it: commercial ratepayers.
“We’re trying to make it more equitable,” Greathead said.
Is it worth it to separate cardboard from the waste stream?
Yes. And for those doing so on behalf of local businesses, it helps municipal workers immensely when cardboard is sorted, flattened and is free of food, packing and staples.
Plastics what you preach
Despite what you might read while scrolling late at night, Jasper’s plastics are not being landfilled, Greathead promises. In fact, since 2019, the municipality has been curbing its plastic recycling problem by…turning it into curbs. Say what now?
While Greathead and his colleagues often have to take it on faith that their recycling brokers are in fact doing what they say they’re doing with the bails of recyclables they purchase from Jasper, when it comes to plastic, the proof is in the pudding. Or rather, the parking blocks.
It’s been five years since Jasper discovered a southern Alberta company that would take our plastic recyclables, grind them, shred them and heat them into a slurry, then take that new compound and mold it into a variety of products—including fence posts, planters and parking curbs. Some of those curbs are in use here in town, bringing our plastics full-circle.
Although a drop in the bucket when it comes to solving world’s garbage problems, when it comes to plastics, we’re at least doing our part, Greathead says.
“We know that we’re going from picking it up to seeing it processed,” he said.
Is it worth it to separate plastics from the waste stream?
Yes. Although it’s well established that we should stop buying single use plastics. Here’s how.
A paper tiger
Paper is annoying to recycle—and I’m not just talking about trying to discretely chuck out my kids’ art projects from school (I take a photo! I’m not completely ruthless).
At one time, ambitious municipal leaders wanted Jasper’s paper recycling separated into three categories: newsprint, white paper and mixed. That was before newspaper production in Canada went off a cliff. In fact, both newsprint and white paper could be relatively lucrative. The trouble was, residents couldn’t keep their streams straight.
“We couldn’t achieve the separation,” Operations Service Manager Laurent Bolduc said.
Brokers refused the jumble, and Jasper was stuck with it.
Cutting their losses, the town now asks residents to drop their recycled paper in the same bin. Unfortunately, instead of getting money back, we now have to pay brokers to have it shipped.
Jasper makes about 50 bails of mixed paper per year; 22 bails fit on a truck and we fork out about $2,000 per load to get it to cardboard manufacturers. These manufacturers actually add it to their products to downgrade it, making the end result more profitable.
“So they don’t want to pay a dime for it,” Bolduc says.
Sometimes it gets sent it to Edmonton, other times it goes as far as Halifax. Either way, Jasper taxpayers are paying to extend its lifespan.
Is it worth it to separate paper from the waste stream?
Maybe? But there’s ample room for improvement.
Don’t panic it’s organic
Removing organics from the waste stream goes a long way in saving the municipality money in tipping fees, it helps mitigate the leaching of toxic materials into the water table and—when the organic materials are processed properly—the resulting soil additive is a valuable commodity.
Jasper instilling a compost program about 15 years ago has helped keep organics out of the landfill (although not to the degree originally hoped). And it has saved the town in tipping fees. However, we weren’t producing good quality compost. For a while, the town’s organics screener was broken, and the final product was often too-contaminated for use on remediation projects in a national park. Not great.
But now the town has a new screener and the end product is good enough to allow residents to use on their garden—although not quite good enough to actually label it as compost (the Canada Food Inspection Agency has strict standards).
But “soil amendment” is better than “landfilled organics.”
Is it worth it to separate organics from the waste stream?
Yes. Just don’t call it compost!
Want to help the MOJ manage its waste streams effectively? Have a peek at our Top 10 Waste Management Taboos.
Bob Covey // firstname.lastname@example.org