The blue lidded recycling bin that is put on the street once a week for pick up could be going into the landfill. The Curbside Recycling Program (CRP) provides Merritt residents curbside collection of some, but not all, recyclable materials through a partnership with the Thompson Nicola Regional District (TNRD). 

Although there are many different types of recycling, the CRP can only accept paper products, cardboard products, hard plastic products, and metal products. Even though other materials like foam, flexible plastic, and glass are recyclable, the program says there is not enough manpower to sort through these materials. They refer to these materials as contaminants.

“Although the target contamination level is less than 3% by volume of a load, certain types of contamination can pose larger problems,” says Andrew Roebbelen, waste reduction coordinator with the TNRD.  

“Just a few plastic bags can entangle many items and make them un-sortable and thus un-recyclable. Glass can be the same way, one or two broken jars can create a hazard for workers making the load un-sortable.”

The contents of the recycling bins are visually inspected at multiple points along the route, from the driver before they pick up the recycling, to the hand-sorting of samples to determine the amount of contaminants. Loads that don’t have noticeable contamination will proceed through the system to be sorted by a variety of methods, including air sorters and optical sorters. Some stages involve hand-sorting of material on a line. 

When a load is contaminated, it gets thrown into the landfill, even though the materials are recyclable. The amount of waste per truck load varies depending on the type and severity of contamination. 

“Sorting facilities do their best to salvage as much material as possible,” said Roebbelen.

“A curbside truck that has been contaminated could result in small amounts like 10-50kg being landfilled, when the contamination can be isolated. Other forms of contamination can result in the entire load being rejected by Recycle BC.” 

Other types of recycling that the CRP cannot pick up can be taken to recycling facilities such as the Lower Nicola Eco Depot, Merritt Machine Works, Merritt Return-It Depot, Home Hardware, and Doctor’s Eyecare Merritt. Types of materials that can be recycled at these places include household and cell phone batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, unused paint, refundable beverage bottles, and some hazardous waste. 

“We have a pretty good recycling system here, we can accept many types of packaging that other places can’t like Styrofoam and plastic bags, but the only way this works is if the material in those packages can be delivered to an end user clean and free of contaminants,” added Roebbelen. 

“The best way to keep contamination out is at the beginning, with residents sorting into categories. If material is jumbled together it is difficult and costly to sort which would result in less material available, at lower quality and higher prices. Recycling only works when there is a circular economy to support it.”