Why Can’t We Recycle Plastic Bags and Plastic Film Anymore?

(Last Updated On: February 10, 2018)

Recently, MTN Disposal Services has announced a change to what is allowed in the blue bin recycle program throughout their service area. Due to circumstances beyond MTN’s control, they will no longer be accepting post consumer plastic film, which includes plastic bags, food wrap, cellophane wrapping and packaging. 

What is Post Consumer Plastic Film?

Post Consumer Plastic Film are mainly the plastics you end up with when you consume another product. That can be grocery bags you bring home from the store, plastic film used to wrap something you purchased, such as the plastic that wraps a tray of hamburger or the plastic bag they seal your cold cuts in. Many products come boxed with an outer plastic layer for security or health reasons, such as a box of chocolates. It also includes plastic films you purchase to use at home such as plastic bags to send sandwiches to school with your kids or food wrap, (such as Saran Wrap or Cling Wrap) you use to cover your leftovers with.

How do I know if a plastic can be recycled?

MTN still accepts many of the other plastics that are marked with the recycling symbols numbered 1 through 7. If the plastic in question does not have that mark, do not include it with your recyclable items for pick up. Understand that, although your grocery bags are usually marked with this symbol, such as #2 recyclable, they still can not be accepted in MTN’s program. Yes they are still recyclable, however Loraas can no longer offer us those services. Their reasons for that are explained below.

Can I still put shredded paper and other accepted items in plastic grocery bags?

No, you cannot put any plastic grocery bags into the blue bins even if they are only acting as a container for other items. Do not use black plastic garbage bags, instead place your items in clear or blue (see through) recycling bags. Remember that your part of participating in the program is ensuring your recyclable waste is sorted. That contribution you make helps Loraas reduce the costs of sorting at their facility and ensures feasibility of the recycling services they provide for us.

MTN Disposal Notice To Customers
MTN Disposal Notice To Customers

What can I do to help ensure MTN and Loraas can continue to provide us with a sustainable recycling program?

The best way you can help ensure our recycling program remains a success familiarize yourself with what is accepted and the steps you should follow to prepare those items for recycling. One of the ways you can ensure your recyclable materials are properly sorted is to be careful about contamination. For instance, when you sort you need to ensure items are 100% the material you are placing them with.

Beyond the well known steps such as removing bottle caps, you need to be mindful of what may seem minor contamination, such as a plastic shipping label on a cardboard box, a ziplock sandwich bag left in a paper lunch bag or any other types of mixed materials. Those small pieces of plastic in or on the mixed papers you are recycling can create many problems for Loraas’s facilities.

Food contamination can also cause problems for Loraas, and something as simple as a plash of ketchup on a newspaper that they used to overlook, can no longer be acceptable due to new standards that have been set.

If my grocery bags are still recyclable, why is Loraas saying no to them?

MTN Disposal sends products for recycling to Loraas Recycle in Saskatoon, who in turn contracts with various recycling facilities to ensure all the recycled materials have a market. Many products get shipped to buyers in China. Until recently China was the only viable market for post consumer plastics, however their new “National Sword” program has eliminated those types of plastics leaving Loraas and other companies without a market.

Loraas has been burdened with the extra cost of having to separate out all of the plastics and has been stockpiling them as they sought out an alternative market. Unable to secure a recycling option for them, Loraas is now faced with having to send what has been collected so far in 2018 to landfills.

These plastics also create a secondary problem. Loraas is still able to ship mixed paper product to China, where over 85% of the world market is for those paper products. That mixed paper constitutes about 26.5% of the materials that get recycled. Mixed papers are bundled and shipped to mills for processing and, upon arrival, are evaluated for a “throw out” rate. In the past the acceptable standard was 5%, and Loraas has never had a problem meeting that standard with their own rate of 2 to 3% throw outs. Again China’s “National Sword” program has created an issue for Loraas by lowering that acceptable rate of throw out to 0.5%.

When Loraas opens up a bundle of these mixed paper products in their facilities here in Saskatchewan, what they find is that plastic film stuck to these mixed papers make up the majority of the throw out. Setting up sorting systems to remove these plastic films is just not feasible and they are left with no choice but to no longer accept those mixed papers that have been contaminated with the film. What that has left them with is the potential of having to reject some otherwise acceptable mixed paper, which can in turn end up at the landfill the recycling program is trying to avoid.

Loraas invested time and money into exploring sorting facility options to deal with the contamination issue, however plastic film is an extremely difficult product to sort out, in part due to they way it can get caught and wrapped in the rollers and other parts of the machines that automate the process of sorting.

Loraas Recycling and MTN Disposal have been tasked with significant changes and they are reaching out to you, the consumers, to help adapt to these changes.

Find out more about recycling;

Loraas Recycling: https://www.loraas.ca/for-home/recycling/

Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council:  http://www.saskwastereduction.ca/

SARCAN Recycling http://www.sarcan.ca/

THE GLOBE AND MAIL – January 8th, 2018 China’s tough new recycling standards leaving Canadian municipalities in a bind

Post Author: Joanne Francis

Joanne Francis is the Editor and Journalist for Nipawin News