It is hard to believe that plastic, the most common form of plastic waste, still is used in the recycling industry in Canada.
But in Alberta, plastic is being used to create a whole new type of plastic recycling business, and it is being done for the benefit of the environment.
While the recycling of cardboard has been around since the late 1800s, the recycling and waste management sector in Alberta has grown exponentially since the 1990s.
A study by Environment Canada found that Alberta has an estimated 20,000 tons of plastic in its recycling bins.
In 2016, there were more than 3.7 million tons of recycled plastic in the province.
“A lot of plastic is recycled in Alberta and we are looking to increase the amount of plastic we recycle,” said Dr. Jeff Schindler, manager of recycling and plastic at the Alberta Recycling Council.
Schindlers own a local plastic recycling company, but he also works with a network of other recycling companies.
“When you look at what is being recycled, it’s usually plastic and it’s not always biodegradable or biodegradeable,” said Schindles office manager, Mark Schindling.
“The problem with plastics is that they don’t get used.”
According to Schindels research, plastics make up almost 90 percent of the plastic that is thrown away.
“We recycle about 85 percent of it,” he said.
While Alberta is the largest plastic recycling market in North America, Schindle is hopeful the industry will soon expand to other provinces and beyond.
“Right now, it is just a small industry in Alberta,” said Shindlers research manager, Steve Tompkins.
“There are a lot of other provinces that are doing a lot more recycling.”
Alberta is also leading the way in recycling water bottles, according to Schall.
The province is one of only two provinces in Canada to recycle all of its bottles.
“The water bottles are one of the best recycling opportunities,” said Tomp, who added that the water bottles can be recycled to create plastic bags for recycling.
The Alberta Waste Recycled Plastic (AWRP) Program is one such recycling program.
It has collected more than 200 million plastic bags in the past three years.
The program is not limited to the province of Alberta, however.
There are many other Canadian cities that are also looking to recycle their plastic waste.
Tomp said the recycling process in Alberta is much easier than in other countries.
“I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘How come I can’t get my waste to be recycled in Canada?’ because Alberta doesn’t have the recycling program in place,” said the manager of waste management at the University of Alberta.
“I say, well, you have the option to go to Canada and recycle in Canada.”
While recycling is a major source of revenue for the recycling company in Alberta’s province, it does come with a cost.
Recyling costs an average of $2.25 per bag, according the Alberta Waste Management Corporation.
Recycle bins also cost an average $1.50 per bag.
“It’s pretty significant to the bottom line, it just takes up more space in the landfill,” said Chris Bredeson, CEO of the Alberta Wastewater Treatment Systems Corporation.
“You don’t want to be putting all the plastic in one place.”
According the Alberta Health Services, the average waste-to-energy cost in Alberta was $8.40 per ton of plastic produced in 2015.
With an average waste volume of 2.7 billion pieces per year, Alberta has about 20,200 tons of waste-based plastic in their recycling program and another 10,000 pounds of recyclable plastic.
The waste management industry is expanding rapidly in Alberta.
The number of plastic containers being produced has doubled over the past decade, according Tomp.
There is an estimated 4.2 million pounds of plastic being produced annually.
According to the Alberta Energy Regulator, the Alberta waste-water industry is responsible for the majority of the province’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“In the long run, it will make our economy stronger and it will be a boon to the environment,” said Bredesons research manager.
“It’s a wonderful industry that’s going to benefit us all,” said Mark Schulze, director of the Environment and Waste Management at the Calgary Waste Management Company.
“To get us off the ground, we need to get recycling going.”
The Alberta Recycle Council is a non-profit organization that works with the Alberta government and local communities to address waste and recycling issues.
They also provide advice to municipalities on recycling, waste management and waste disposal issues.