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Sunday , 21 December 2014
Recycling as urban mining: Toronto facility is largest in North America

Recycling as urban mining: Toronto facility is largest in North America

How is recycling like baseball? They both spawn more statistics than a roomful of actuaries. Americans use and mostly throw away 2,500,000 plastic bottles every hour. Every year, nearly 900,000,000 trees are cut down for the pulp and paper industry in America. More than 1.1 million cell phones were recovered in Canada in 2012. North America has 4 per cent of the world’s population but consumes 25 per cent of the world’s resources. And on it goes.

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Even with all the efforts of consumers and governments to encourage recycling, 60 per cent of Ontario’s municipal waste still ends up in landfill.

Now we can add another rather impressive statistic with a local significance: the largest recycling facility in North America is in Toronto. Phase 2 of the Canada Fibers Arrow Road MRF (Materials Recovery Facility) Complex had its official opening last week. It can process more than 60 tons of waste in an hour.

A single-stream facility, the Arrow Road plant takes all the recyclables at once—paper, tin cans, plastic bottles—rather than having to sort it all first. The plant specializes in recovering commodities from the “waste stream” and claims to have the highest recovery rate in the industry, with a goal of reaching 95 per cent recovery of commodities.

The CEO of Canada Fibers, Joe Miranda, compares his operation to that of a mining company. “We are an urban mining company,” he says, the only difference being that “they take products from the ground,” while his operation recovers products that are already above ground. It takes less energy to retrieve these materials than it does to dig them out of the ground, and that makes it good for the environment.

The recycling industry is “where the environment and the economy intersect” according to Canada Fibers vice president of operations, Jake Westerhof, who adds, giving yet another statistic, that for every 1,000 tons of waste that’s recycled, seven jobs are created.

Most of the waste produced in Ontario—75 per cent of it, according to Canada Fibers—still goes to disposal, i.e., landfill. “The goal of the company is to divert everything we can from landfill,” said Miranda.

How much is the trash worth? An organization called the Container Recycling Institute estimated that the 36 billion aluminum cans that went into landfill last year (US) would be worth more than $600 million. Apart from that scrap value, mining aluminum from cans takes 95 per cent less energy than is required to mine aluminum from the ground. The amount of energy saved in a single year could light a city the size of Pittsburg for ten years.

Ever wonder why you’re not supposed to put full plastic bags in the recycling bin?

The main reason is that they present a big problem for sorting. A plastic bag full of trash is a mystery to sorters. Does it contain harmless recyclables like paper and tin cans? Or is it full of used diapers, dangerous medical equipment or worse? Rather than open every bag to see, workers instead are forced to remove them from the waste stream and toss them in the garbage. Very counter-productive.

But even empty plastic bags are a problem because they get caught in the conveyor belts and sorting mechanisms. However, the city of Toronto now allows empty plastic grocery and retail bags in the blue bins. They must be empty and placed together, in a plastic bag. Not included are drycleaner bags, and the clear plastic produce bags used by most grocery stores.

Some random facts about recycling

A used aluminum can is recycled and back on the grocery shelf as a new can, in as little as 60 days. That’s closed loop recycling at its finest!

Used aluminum beverage cans are the most recycled item in the U.S., but other types of aluminum, such as siding, gutters, car components, storm window frames, and lawn furniture can also be recycled.

Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a TV for three hours—or the equivalent of a half a gallon of gasoline.

More aluminum goes into beverage cans than any other product.

Because so many of them are recycled, aluminum cans account for less than 1% of the total U.S. waste stream, according to EPA estimates.

Approximately 1 billion trees worth of paper are thrown away every year in the U.S.

The average household throws away 13,000 separate pieces of paper each year. Most is packaging and junk mail.

Plastic bags and other plastic garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1,000,000 sea creatures every year!

The energy saved from recycling one glass bottle can run a 100-watt light bulb for four hours or a compact fluorescent bulb for 20 hours. It also causes 20% less air pollution and 50% less water pollution than when a new bottle is made from raw materials.

Out of every $10 spent buying things, $1 (10%) goes for packaging that is thrown away. Packaging represents about 65% of household trash.

 

About Nicole Ryan Editor

I am Nicole Ryan, a contributing editor at Condo.ca—Canada's Condominium Magazine.

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