Opinion: Alberta’s lackadaisical recycling hurting its global image

Without some major change in the world of recycling, Alberta’s image will remain poor

Let’s face it, unless Alberta makes some major changes in the world of recycling, its global image of ‘dirty oil’ will not go away.

Of course Albertans know that the province’s safety standards are high, and its environmental awareness is also high, but all of that is meaningless unless the rest of the world buys into that idea. That won’t happen as long as we continue to leave other environmental factors out of the equation.

The bombshell of information that manufacturers of packaging already charge customers a recycle fee (fractions of a penny) for their product yet Alberta municipalities still pay for recycling services should be enough to wake people up (see page 22). Alberta is the only province that has no legislation ensuring manufacturers deal with their products till their end of life.

Sure, change is hard. Nobody likes it, and Albertans appear to be the slowest Canadians to change, but from a fiscal point of view, we’re being charged twice for a service. How does that even make sense?

Our political leaders (UCP, NDP or otherwise) know what happens when even the slightest suggestion of change is announced: chaos, mayhem, angry taxpayers and threats to chop off heads. Cries of “I pay my taxes!” remind us that Corner Gas’s Oscar Leroy character is a little more accurate than we realize.

We’re so stuck in an old way of thinking that we neglect to look at how others see us. And I’m not talking people down the street, I’m talking major world policy makers who look at specifics such as what a province’s recycle mandate is, how advanced is its recycling sorting or how much product is going to a landfill.

It turns out most of our plastics (numbers 3 to 7) are going to the landfill. Alberta and Canada is ill-equipped to efficiently sort these plastics and now China, a major collector of plastics, doesn’t want the product. This is affecting Canada and United States in a major way.

We can cry all we want that China’s requirements of 0.5 per cent contamination is too high but there are many countries in the world that have been sorting their waste to a much more efficient level, for many years.

For those easily offended, now is the time to get over yourself. The harsh reality is that from the outside looking in, Alberta and Canada do not have a great track record and as much as we’d like to live in silos, the world is a much smaller place and there’s major global changes taking place. We can scream and yell all we want but that’s just going to come across to the rest of the world like a spoiled child.

According to 2013 data from Statistica, Canada ranks 25th of 35 countries when it comes to recycled and compost waste among its Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries membership.

We’re recycling and composting 24 per cent of our municipal waste. Germany, which ranks first, is at 65 per cent. Maybe we’ve had some change in the last five years but it’s doubtful we’ve done enough to bump ourselves up a spot. The United States is in the middle of the pack, 17th, and is recycling 35 per cent of its waste.

Some folks may think to themselves, “But what about all the other countries that have more waste?” The attitude of ‘what are they doing’ needs to stop. Alberta must make some serious changes if its going to change the world’s viewpoint.

Without action we can only blame ourselves for a negative world image.

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