Frequently Asked Questions

What is recycling?
Recycling is a system that ensures waste materials and goods are collected, transported, sorted, recovered and processed into new materials and goods.

It follows the Recycling Regulations under the authority of the Environmental Management Act.

Recycling in BC is ahead of recycling in other parts of Canada, as materials are collected in supervised, audited facilities and turned into commodities that can be sold on domestic and international markets.

Industry is responsible for managing the life cycle of designated products and the consumer packaging they create and distribute.

Consumers are responsible for understanding and correctly using the available services.

This is known as Product Stewardship or the Extended Producer Responsibility Programs (EPRP). https://www.rcbc.ca/recycling-programs/epr

Is recycling really happening?
Fig 3a Fig3b

Yes. The Environmental Management Act has set out Recycling Regulations to minimize the pollution and environmental burden caused by materials that are to be discarded.

This has resulted in Extended Producer Responsibility Programs (EPRP) where producers are responsible for the end of life management of the materials they bring to the market, and consumers are responsible to understand and use the programs.

BC's EPRP programs do not send raw, garbage-contaminated recycling to other countries.

In the ACRD, curbside recycling goes to Waste Connection in Nanaimo for sorting.

EPRP's materials are collected, broken down into their component parts in certified, audited facilities, then transformed into clean commodities that can be sold on the domestic and world markets

Where does curbside and depot recycling go?
One of the EPRP programs is Recycle BC, where designated product packaging, paper and cardboard materials are collected via curbside or depot services.

The materials are sent to Materials Sorting Facilities in Parksville and Nanaimo where they are baled and transported to processing facilities in the mainland.

Fig 4a Fig 4b Curbside materials are sorted and baled at the Materials Sorting Facility in Parksville.
Fig 5a Fig 5b Depot materials are baled for shipping to mainland processing plants at the Nanaimo Green by Nature facility.

Where do the other materials (batteries, electronics etc.) go?
Under the recycling regulations that govern the EPRP, other materials collected go to certified and audited facilities that ensure the safe handling and recycling of the component materials. See https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/waste-management/recycling/product-stewardship

Why can't we recycle everything?
You can only recycle materials for which an EPRP program exists (see above) .

While the EPRP list is very large, there are some materials that are currently not recyclable - e.g. glass drinking glasses, dishes, windowpanes, mirrors, toys, PVC materials, plastic furniture. A program to economically recycle these materials as not been developed yet but may be in the future.

Why is curbside recycling so picky? Why can't we recycle more items at curbside?
The Recycle BC curbside recycling program is designed to collect designated product packaging, Fig 6paper and cardboard. The designated materials can be processed at the Materials Sorting Facility (in Parksville) and further at a Materials Processing Facility on the mainland into clean, marketable commodities.

Glass, plastic bags and foam packaging have to be collected separately at Recycle BC depots. The glass and foam tend to shard and break, contaminating the rest of the recycling and can turn the entire load into garbage. Plastic bags can get caught up in the sorting machinery, holding up the sorting process.

Materials not on the list (toys, clothing, garden hoses, Christmas lights) are also garbage and may also tangle up in the machinery, causing long delays. They have to be removed from the mixed recycling before it gets into the sorting machinery.

Why is single stream recycling mixed?
Because it is made up of designated materials that can be processed and turned into new products (see video). Recycle BC Video

What goes in curbside, vs. depot? vs. donation?

How clean do materials need to be?

What is contamination? Why does it matter?
Contamination is adding materials to recycling bins that are not on the list, but that people wish/hope they might be recycled. AKA "Wishcycling" or "Wishful Recycling". Instead, wishcycling:
  • can contaminate the rest of the recycling, turning all of it into garbage
  • it may interfere with the materials sorting facility machinery
  • it raises the cost of the service.

Why is recycling so complicated?
Because our material culture is so complex - and recycling can only happen if the producer has taken responsibility for their material and technology exists to economically process the material into a marketable commodity.

Why can't we recycle everything in one place?
You don't buy everything in one place, why should you be able to recycle everything in one place 😊

How can we easily find what to recycle and where? Where can we keep up with changes

Visit www.acrd.bc.ca/recycling_schedules.

About glass
Why can't we have separate glass pick-up and bins?

Because it is not economic here in the ACRD. The Recycle BC program is paid for by the producers of the materials, glass pick up would need to be funded by your taxpayer dollars.

Glass is a low value material, so it is most economical to collect it in a Recycle BC Depot, where the company picks up the cost of collection, transportation and processing into useable materials like construction aggregate and for sandblasting.

What kinds of glass are recyclable?

Only product packaging glass is recyclable - that is because Recycle BC has agreed to foot the bill to collect and transport this low value material, and to ensure it is processed and re-used for sand-blasting material and road construction.

Other types of glass have a different chemical composition and melting point, so cannot be processed in the same way.

About plastics
Doesn't the resin code mean it's recyclable?

No. The resin code was introduced to inform manufacturers of the type and properties of the material. It was never intended to indicate recyclability, nor does it mean that a product bearing the code can be recycled.

In BC, the way for residents can tell if a plastic is recyclable is to:

  • Check the Recycle BC list at http://recyclinginbc.ca/

  • Use the Recycle BC App on your mobile device https://recyclebc.ca/app/

  • Get a hand-out from the ACRD

  • Call the Recycling Hotline 1-800-667-4321

The term "Plastic" includes a wide range of materials with very different properties and uses.

Plastics not on the list are not recyclable because they are:

  • Not packaging, but a product (like plastic cutlery, straws, toys, furniture)
  • Laminates, which means plastic films are fused together (e.g. Ziploc bags, stand-up pouches for frozen food, hard, crinkly plastics) - these are now collected for a pilot waste to energy program
  • A material that cannot currently be processed (e.g. toys, garden hoses, lawn furniture, kitchen tools, storage containers)

About the role of Government
Why doesn't government regulate companies to recycle everything, or to only produce recyclable materials?

The BC provincial government Environmental Management Act sets out the Recycling Regulations for Extended Producer Responsibility Programs.

These programs shift the responsibility for recycling from Government/Taxpayer to Producer/Consumer.

Does recycling create or save greenhouse gas emission?

"A 2010 life cycle inventory showed for every pound of recycled PET [recyclable plastic] flake used instead of virgin, energy use is reduced by 84 percent, and greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 71.1 percent."