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Waste Management: Inside the World of Recycling

Posted: March 27, 2020

By Mathew Cooke

The ‘current issue’ of this year’s Ontario Envirothon is Waste Management — an issue which represents much more than just reusing and repurposing materials. Students with an interest in environmental stewardship, from two local high schools, took a deep dive into the world of recycling with Forests Ontario staff on a recent tour of Niagara Recycling, a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

The responsibilities of an MRF begin after the curbside collection of recyclable materials such as paper, fibre, plastic and aluminium. This is the last step in the recycling process that most of us have opportunity to see, but this is just the beginning. From there, the MRF receives, processes, and distributes recyclable products to buyers who are responsible for further processes (like the pulping of paper) or repurposing (of materials like aluminum). Niagara Recycling is responsible for about 140,000 homes, in 12 different municipalities, for a grand total of about 77,000 tonnes of recyclable materials each year.

Niagara Recycling relies on an intricate series of steps for their recycling process. The recyclables arrive by truck and are stored in a large holding space. The facility follows a dual-stream recycling process, whereby paper and fibre (grey box materials) are separated from plastic and aluminum (blue box materials) as they move along conveyor belts. Staff members then hand-sort any materials missed by the machines before the materials are compressed into bails and sold off. The recycling facility sells its bails of paper, aluminum, and plastic for varying prices, but where it differs from the average MRF is in its processing of glass products. Here, they grind down glass products into a sand-like material, known as Niagara Ecoglass, which can be used for both landscaping and sandblasting. They are the only facility in Ontario that produces this type of product.

As a non-profit social enterprise, Niagara Recycling is committed to giving back to its community in a variety of ways. They funded the Donald L. Reilly Centre, which provides respite programs and support for special needs children and their families, with their revenue. The facility also donates funds to support the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Summer Movement Camp at Brock University as well as the Red Roof Retreat, an organization that provides recreational and respite programs for children with mental or physical disabilities. Aside from donations to local charities and organizations, Niagara Recycling also employs workers with disabilities such as ASD.

Recycling facilities are just one part of the process when it comes to waste management. There are still several things that people can do to assist in making recycling easier and more efficient for the professionals. Simply obtaining and consulting your regional 2020 Collection Guide is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with what kinds of products can be placed in the green bin, grey box and blue box. When recycling products such as glass or plastic containers, be sure to rinse the inside of the container to avoid contamination during the recycling process. Taking the time to recycle items properly assists with climate change mitigation, demonstrates commitment to environmental stewardship, and makes the jobs of those working at recycling facilities easier and safer.