(File photo)

City council

Surrey ‘aggressively tackling’ recycling contamination to avoid hefty fines

City council approves contract with Recycle BC that means additional savings from previous deal — if contamination can be reduced

Don’t dump things in those blue bins that don’t belong.

That’s the message from city hall, which is “aggressively tackling” its recycling contamination rate in light of higher penalties coming into effect that could see the city eventually fined $480,000 a year if rates don’t decline.

The new rules come along with a five-year contract with Recycle BC that Surrey council approved on Monday (Sept. 17).

Surrey’s new contract will mean the city will receive $6 million per year as a “financial incentive” from Recycle BC, the “extended-responsibility” entity set up after the provincial government approved new legislation in 2013 that shifted the responsibility for recycling product packaging to industry.

Surrey’s savings is an increase of approximately $300,000 per year from the existing five-year deal that expires on Jan. 1, 2019.

That is, if the city can knock down its contamination rates.

“The financial incentives are used to offset the city’s waste collection,” explained Harry Janda, Surrey’s solid waste manager. “The funding covers our recycling costs, but we want to avoid those (penalties) to ensure there’s no cost impacts to our residents.”

See also: Keep styrofoam out of your garbage or pay the price

See also: Surrey moves ‘Ecocentre’ and trash facility forward

In 2017, the city paid $100,000 in penalties for its recycling contamination, but that will rise under the new agreement if things don’t change.

A report to city council noted that this year, new global recycling contamination standards came into effect, which require contamination rates not exceed 0.5 per cent. While Recycle BC says it’s been able manage the changes, they’ve adjusted their “Service Level Failure Credit” (SLFC) in an effort to “incentivize local governments to lower contamination.”

The SLFC is currently $5,000 per load, up to a maximum of 24 annual loads, which works out to a maximum of $120,000 per year.

But the new SLFC will include a year-over-year stepped increased reaching $20,000 per load (in year five of the contract) for contamination above three per cent.

That could mean a maximum annual penalty of $480,000 for Surrey, said Janda, if the contamination rates don’t go down.

Based on Recycle BC audits, Surrey’s contamination rate is approximately 10 per cent, similar to other single-stream programs in B.C.

The city has developed “robust” strategy to try to reduce the rate, which will involve targeting routes with high contamination through door-to-door education with repeat offenders, and an education campaign on proper disposal and impacts of contamination.

Janda said the city doesn’t issue fines, but they do send pamphlets to offenders, and letters directed to households found in violation.

“If we find a household contamination on week one, we try to educate. Week two, we probably continue to educate, but by week three we say we can’t continue to pick up until you remedy the issue,” he explained.

Janda said in 2017, the city issued 400 “no collection stickers” per collection day, over a three-month period, “and we issued a significant number of education notices.”

“We have refined our approach this year given that we have narrowed down pockets in Surrey with the highest contamination,” he noted. “We are initially focusing on these areas to educate, promote and work with these residents to ensure that their recycling cart is prepared without contamination and non-acceptable items are properly disposal of.

“There’s a lot of confusion about what types of plastics can go in your recycling cart,” said Janda. “We find anything from straight up garbage, to broken toys. We find electronics in there. People think electronics are recyclable but it’s done under a separate stewardship plan and has to go to a depot. We also find things like books, clothing, scrap metal, pots and pans.”

Accepted items include aerosol cans, plastic packaging, paper products and packaging, as well as metal containers and packing. The city reminds residents to remove lids, rinse and flatten recycling. Styrofoam, glass jars and bottles, plastic bags, soft plastics and propane tanks are not allowed.

Click here to read more about what goes where.

See also: LETTER: Offended by Surrey garbage ‘offence’

Meantime, Recycle BC is reviewing other possible changes to its program. Surrey staff take issue with one: A possible shift to new collection bins for public receptacles due to contamination, such as food waste or liquid from coffee, among other things. These are bins such as those at bus stops.

If these “streetscape” bins are transitioned from Surrey’s multi-stream process, to one that involves a variety of receptacles, such as one for glass, and another for paper, it would require the city to triple its current inventory of approximately 750 public recycling receptacles.

The city estimates that would cost Surrey than $4.5 million.

“We’d have to completely change our system,” said Janda.


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