Recycling refers to diverting products from disposal at the end of their useful lives. This includes sorting, transporting, and processing them to produce secondary sources of materials that are subsequently used in the production of new goods.
Composting is considered to be a form of recycling and is defined as is a biological process that breaks down kitchen, lawn, and garden wastes into soil-like material called humus.
Municipalities throughout the province have longstanding recycling programs, and more recently, some have begun composting programs in recognition that up to 52 percent of household waste is organic matter which can be composted.
The benefits of recycling are well researched and documented:
- Producing aluminum from scrap instead of bauxite cuts energy use and air pollution by 95 percent.
- Making paper from discards instead of trees not only saves forests, but it also reduces the energy used by up to three quarters and requires less than half as much water.
- Recycling newspaper emits less than a third of the greenhouse gas emission emitted by using virgin materials, and recycling cardboard uses half.
- Composting produces a rich soil supplement that improves plant growth.
- Revenue can be generated from selling compost to the community.
However, there are also a great deal of costs associated with running recycling and composting programs, including expenditures relating to staffing, facility infrastructure, and outreach and promotion. The exact costs depend on the system chosen. For example, the costs for recycling depots and curbside pick-up are very different. Both systems also have different recovery rates. One of the biggest challenges associated with financing recycling programs is the fluctuations experienced in the market for recycled material. Prices are often well below the rate for cost recovery.
Extended producer responsibility (EPR) and product stewardship (PS) programs are perhaps the most promising solution as they shift the burden of managing products at the end-of-life from municipalities to the producers and consumers of those products.
The Government of Canada explains that an EPR program specifically identifies end-of-life management as the responsibility of producers (e.g., brand owners, manufacturers or first importers), whereas a “product stewardship” program allocates responsibility to each of the stakeholders involved in the life cycle of a product (e.g., consumer, provincial and municipal government, industry). (Government of Canada, 2010)
The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), through the Canada-wide Action Plan for EPR, supports the move towards greater producer responsibility. Under the Action Plan, the first priority is to deal with packaging and the CCME is establishing an industry-government working group to develop a Canada-wide approach to minimize packaging. Click here for more information.
Recycling Programs in Alberta
Alberta has five regulated recycling programs dealing with used tires, electronics, beverage containers, used oil and paint. Many municipalities provide collection sites and/or organize roundups for these programs.
- The Beverage Container Management Board (BCMB) manages the deposit return program for beverage containers.
- The Alberta Recycling Management Authority (Alberta Recycling) manages programs for electronics, paint, used oil, and tires.
Alberta Municipalities is advocating that Alberta's recycling regulation be updated to expand and improve the viability of Alberta’s existing recycling programs and to enable the development of new recycling programs, such as a recycling program for agricultural plastics, and an EPR packaging and paper program.