The Town of Smithers is working to reduce the contamination rate of curbside recycling.
On March 26, town council adopted a new solid waste bylaw that includes enforcement measures for curbside collectors if recycle bins are found to contain materials that are not part of the recycling program.
The new measures include fines from $100 up to $2,000, however, director of works and operations Roger Smith told Interior News the new bylaw is more about correcting behaviour than penalizing people.
Moving forward, if a curbside collector sees materials that are not part of the recycling program in a recycling bin, Smith said they won’t take the materials away and they’ll affix a notice to the bin explaining why.
“Our goal is education and worst-case scenario we won’t take your materials,” he said.
Formerly, the town’s 2014 garbage collection bylaw included rules and enforcement related to garbage, however, this is the first time the town has adopted enforcement specific to recycling.
“Our bylaw didn’t give us the right to not pick somebody’s recycling up, so that’s the reason it was included and for the update on the bylaw,” Smith said.
The update was prompted by the town’s poor performance in contamination audits, which found “widespread contamination throughout the town.”
As part of its contract with Recycle BC, the town collects curbside recycling from single family dwellings before dropping it off with another contractor, Smithers and Area Recycling Society.
Included in the Recycle BC contract is a contamination limit, a maximum rate of three per cent, the town has to adhere to. Smith said the last two audits of Smithers recycling revealed contamination rates “significantly higher than that.”
In the most recent audit, conducted in January, the town’s recycling contamination rate was 17 per cent.
David Lefebvre, spokesperson for Recycle BC, told Interior News that on average the provincial recycling contamination rate is 6.5 per cent.
“If we exceed the contamination threshold we’re subject to fines that are up to as high as $5,000 a load,” Smith said, though Recycle BC has not asked the town to pay a fine to date.
“They don’t want to be in the fine business, they just want to have clean recyclables,” he said of the not-for-profit.
Lefebvre said a common problem Recycle BC sees is something called “wish-cycling.”
“That’s where somebody might look at a product, at a material and say, ‘I’m not really sure if this should go in,’ and then they’ll throw it in,” he said. “If it’s not something that’s accepted then it’s considered a contaminant.”
Smith said that after conducting audits, Recycle BC gives the town a detailed report with photographs.
“There was a plastic tarp, there was a welcome mat, we’ve seen all kinds of stuff,” he said. “People actually putting garbage in their recycling bins.”
He said the restricted items they most commonly find contaminating bins are glass, refundables, and plastic bags and overwrap.
“A lot of people were putting all their recyclables into plastic bags,” he said. “Those would get treated as garbage and get thrown in the garbage, regardless of what’s in there.
“Most people are doing it wrong and they just don’t know it.”
To improve recycling efforts, Smith said his department sends out notices and an annual calendar, and the Recycle Coach app includes tips and reminders.
“There haven’t been many repeat offenders,” Smith said of residents they have reached with their recycling education. “And I’ve looked in a lot of bins.”