Recycling program not impacted by pandemic

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

When the pandemic forced the closure of retail businesses, many individuals started punching in their credit card information, placing orders on items to later be delivered in recyclable boxes.

Although national and international statistics suggest average recyclables per household increased during the pandemic, Craig Miller, environmental superintendent, said it was quite the opposite in Fort Frances.

“Interestingly enough, when we were looking at the data for 2020 it was actually one of our lowest year in the last five years for the total mass of recyclables collected,” Miller said. “It was leading with high recyclable volumes at the start of the year in February, March and April of 2020. Then they started to drop off for the rest of the year and they stayed down.”

Miller said the decrease is not because residents are not utilizing the blue box program, but rather commercial businesses not operating and therefore decreasing their recyclable waste.

Miller said despite the pandemic, the local recycling program continues to sail smoothly and is well utilized by Fort Frances residents.

Asselin Transportation and Storage LTD., the town’s local contractor, does biweekly curbside pickup of garbages and recyclables for most residents. There is also the recycling depot on Sixth Street if residents want to get rid of their recycling on their own timeline as opposed to waiting for the actual pickup.

All recyclables are compacted after they arrive at the Public Works location.

The town also has a contracted service with Emterra, a company that operates out of Winnipeg. Emterra collects the town’s compacted recycles and takes it to their processing facility in Winnipeg.

Miller said the town collects about 500 tonnes of recyclable material per year that could otherwise end up in the landfills. The average recyclables collected by the town per month is 40 tonnes.

The Town of Fort Frances receives money from the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority to offset their cost to operate the blue box program.

Miller said under the current municipal funding allocation model, the town was supposed to have funding for 50 per cent of the cost to run the blue box program. This funding is also collected by the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority.

However, Miller said the town does not break even offsetting collection costs with the money received at the drop off site.

“Because of our geographic location and the limited options for companies that can process, we tend to have high shipping costs,” Miller said. “So our overall recycle program costs are higher than it would be an urban [area].”

After putting the shipping costs in the equation, the town only sees about 35 per cent covered by the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority, Miller said.

The town also has a revenue sharing agreement with Emterra where profits are split up if the materials go above a certain dollar per ton for recyclables.

Miller said because the recycle market has changed quite significantly in the last few years, the value has not been above $60 per ton for the past three years.

Miller said there have been a few changes to the recycling program that are not related to the pandemic. After some operational changes to the recycling depot located on Sixth Street, garbages, recyclables or waste will not compact immediately after any item is dropped off. It will now only compact after it reaches a certain capacity.

Another change was done to meet health and safety guidelines.

“We had to change the size and maximum weight allowed in the recycle container for the workers who pick it up on daily basis,” Miller said. “There is a learning curve to that and we did an education campaign.”

Miller said despite the limit on the size and weight of the blue boxes, there is no maximum limit to the amount of containers put out as long as they do not exceed weight or size limit.

Finally, Miller said commercial and industrial businesses are always welcome to drop their recyclables off at the public works recycle depot if they want to reduce the cost of transporting it them themselves or working with local companies to pick up the recyclables.

“We have a large storage facility there that they can drive right up to and put their materials in, as opposed to taking them to the landfill,” Miller said.