High costs ground plan to recycle grocery bags
Bill Cleverley, Times ColonistPublished: Thursday, May 29, 2008
Plastic bags won't be picked up in Greater Victoria blue boxes any time in the near future.
While collecting the bags in blue boxes is possible, it is expensive and there are potential problems, assistant solid waste manager John Craveiro told the Capital Regional District environment committee yesterday.
Some of the challenges include the bags blowing around neighbourhoods prior to collection and contamination of bags with paper receipts and other contaminants, he said.
CRD staff estimate the net cost of collecting and processing 500 tonnes of bags would be $530,900 a year, while the current total annual net cost of collecting all materials is about $1.3 million.
The committee agreed that including the bags in the blue box program at this point would be too expensive. Instead it is recommending the CRD continue to lobby the province to expand its product stewardship program to include the bags and other soft plastics, increase education campaigns on alternatives to plastic bags and advertising drop-off locations.
There are 55 locations in the CRD, many of them grocery stores, that accept the bags for recycling. The committee agreed plastic bags should be considered for the blue box program when the next contract is issued in 2012.
Saltspring Island director Gary Holman said he was "stunned" by the additional costs to collect the bags.
Craveiro replied that the estimated additional costs come largely from contractors currently picking up recyclables.
"Right now they have maximized the payloads for their trucks. [Plastic bags] are not very much weight but [add] bulkiness. So you're looking about 2 1/2 trucks you'd have to add to their existing truck fleet in order to accommodate this," he said.
Plastic bags have not been considered a huge problem at the Hartland landfill. They make up less than one per cent of the waste there and Canadian litter audits show that plastic bags account for less than 0.5 per cent of household litter. As well, studies show the majority of plastic bags are reused at least once.
Several committee members objected to the wording in the report, which suggested the following the recommendation was a "status quo" option.
"It [the wording 'status quo'] has a sense of inertia and no change," said committee chairwoman Susan Brice, who added the CRD is doing everything from lobbying the province to conducting public education to help foster a reduction in the use of plastic bags.
Saanich Coun. Judy Brownoff said it's the CRD's mandate to regulate and educate.
"I definitely think the education program could be bumped up," she said, adding that more large retailers and stores in shopping centres should get involved in providing alternatives to plastic bags.
"We really do have to wrap it up. It's an environmental issue," she said.
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008