Archive for the ‘Recycling’ Category

Visiting the Recycling Centre

Since my blog post about visiting Montreal’s Sorting Centre for Recyclable Materials, several people have written to ask how they can arrange for a tour of the facilities.

Visits to the sorting centre, which is part of the Saint-Michel Environmental Complex (SMEC), are now managed by TOHU (better known for its circus activities).

Laurence Dupont from the tickets and guided tours office explained that the regular environmental tour has four components (order may vary):

  1. History of the Saint-Michel Environmental Complex (SMEC) and the TOHU
  2. Visit of the TOHU Pavilion, a LEED GOLD Canada certified green building
  3. Visit to the lookout for a panoramic view of the complex
  4. Short visit of the Montreal Sorting Centre for Recyclable Materials. A more complete visit of the plant, where you get to see the sorting machinery in operation, is offered upon request. For safety reasons, participants have to be 18 or over.

Duration: 90 minutes (2 hours if visiting the sorting plant as well)

Reservations can be made for groups of 10 people or more. For individuals or smaller groups, they can add you on to another tour. There could be a slight wait, because they’ll do their best to match you to a group of similar “level” (for example, they might place adults with a university group) since the tour is adapted to the audience.

Tours are available in English or French. Visits are free for Montreal residents, otherwise the cost is $6 for adults and $4 for kids, and free for children under 6 (but not recommended). Special rates for social integration organizations.

For information, you can email visites.guidees@tohu.ca or call 514 374-3522, ext. 4000.

Visiting the city landfill

An equally interesting destination is the landfill in Terrebonne. Although a visit to the city’s garbage dump may sound boring, it’s actually quite fascinating (see my post “A visit to where our garbage really goes“).

See their website (French only) for more information about tours and activities. You can also email André Chulak or call 450 474-7222.

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What do giant puppet jellyfish, green roofs, old computers, and a tax company have in common?

All were part of projects honoured at a Montreal environment and sustainable development awards gala held last week. Organized by CRE-Montréal in collaboration with the City of Montreal, the annual event aims to highlight innovative and inspiring projects being carried out by partners of Montreal’s Sustainable Development Plan.

While I didn’t attend the gala, the projects are all worth mentioning. In fact, one of the award winners and one of the nominees have already been featured on this blog.

 2012 winners

  • Business and industry category: KPMG, a company that provides audit, tax, and advisory services, won for its initiatives encouraging employees to become active in their community. The company makes social and environmental involvement part of its employees’ annual performance evaluation. It also organizes an annual volunteer day: in 2011, 91% of its employees participated in activities such as planting trees, cleaning up shorelines, and controlling invasive species in Angrignon park.
  • Public bodies and institutions: The Borough of Rosement–La Petite-Patrie won for bylaw changes aiming to reduce urban heat islands. Property developers are now obligated to devote at least 20% of the area to green space. In cases where this is difficult, a green roof (roof covered by vegetation) can be installed. In its first year, the bylaw saw the installation of 300 new green and white roofs (roof covered by reflective materials), and the greening of more than 21,000 km2 — the equivalent of four football fields.
  • Non-profit organizations, associations and groups: In 2011 Insertech Angus started its DÉDUIRre service for businesses, collecting and refurbishing old IT equipment, and then putting it to (re)use in the community. The organization also plays a social role by training and employing young people in difficulty, helping them integrate into the job market. (See enviromontreal post: A social and environmental solution for IT equipment)
  • Finally, the “Coup de cœur” award given out by Culture Montréal went to the Coopérative Les ViVaces for its show “La Conférence,” presented during Earth Day weekend at the Biodome. Using puppets made from recycled materials, it told the story of an explorer who discovers the 7th continent, a mass of garbage in the ocean which may be as large as Europe (a true phenomenon, also known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”).

You can view short videos about each of these projects on the gala’s website (in French). Even if your French is poor, watch the video on Coopérative Les ViVaces to see the giant jellyfish they made using an old umbrella frame and transparent plastic.

Also nominated

The following organizations were also nominated for their work.

  • Business and industry: Communauto, for its new fleet of electric cars; Brasserie Labatt, for its recovery of cooling water used in the pasteurization process.
  • Public bodies and institutions: Borough of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension, for the recycling of excavation materials; City of Montreal’s Direction des immeubles, for its sustainable ice-skating rinks.
  • Non-profit organizations, associations and groups: Accès Fleuve / ZIP Ville-Marie, for its Route bleue du Grand Montréal, a way to discover the Montreal area by canoe or kayak; and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for its “Ruelle du réemploi”.


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People are always asking me where to bring their stuff — old TVs, computer equipment, etc. — instead of throwing it in the garbage. So I’ve decided to start a little series on reuse and recycling. Today, we begin with computers.

The short answer would be to bring old computer equipment to your local ecocentre, because they will dispose of items containing toxic or hazardous materials in an environmentally safe way.

However, if you think there might be some salvageable components, consider bringing your old computer equipment to Insertech Angus.

Insertech is a non-profit organization with a social and environmental mission: it specializes in the collection and refurbishing of IT equipment, while employing and training young adults at risk. Each year, some fifty adults ages 18 to 35 work at salaried positions and receive technical training, as well as social support, to help them integrate into the job market.

In addition to desktop computers, the company accepts LCD screens, laptops, notebooks, and even tablets. They also accept peripherals and computer parts. Technicians verify the equipment, erase the disks, and then repair, clean and upgrade the equipment to create optimized machines that can be used by schools, community organizations, students, the elderly, or other groups or individuals.

“Insertech is an IT solution that is socially and environmentally profitable,” sums up general director Agnes Beaulieu, who helped found the company thirteen years ago. “We use the term ‘solution’ because we cover a range of computer needs.” For example, Insertech also offers repair services, gives courses on how to repair or optimize your equipment yourself, and sells affordable refurbished equipment — “all with a goal to helping people avoid consuming products needlessly.”

Services for companies

The bulk of IT materials collected come from companies. Through its ISO-certified DÉDUIRre program, Insertech offers free pick-up for 15 computers or more in the greater Montreal area, permanent and secure deletion of data from the hard drives, and guarantees maximum reuse of the hardware. If they cannot refurbish the equipment, they will dispose of it in an environmentally sound manner. Insertech can buy the equipment if it’s fully working and possesses the latest technology or, as a recognized charity, they can issue a receipt for tax purposes for the donation of working computers. Companies can also resell the refurbished equipment to their employees.

What percentage of machines can really be refurbished? “It depends on where they come from,” says Beaulieu. From individuals, about 20%. From companies, up to 70%. “Companies use their equipment for 3 or 4 years maximum before switching to higher performance machines,” she explains. Individuals, however, tend to hang on to their equipment longer, often passing it on to a friend or family member. “So by the time we get it, it’s usually pretty old.”

Last year, out of 11,515 units collected (164 metric tonnes), Insertech was able to refurbish 7142 units, or 62%.

One item they cannot do anything with, however, is old, bulky cathode-ray tube (CRT) screens. Beaulieu says individuals are better off bringing those to an ecocentre, which will dispose of them (ecologically) for free. Insertech has to charge people $15 to cover the recycling cost.

Repair, refurbish, reuse

Refurbished equipment is an environmentally friendly choice that is suitable for anyone, she stresses.  “You can get very good equipment that meets your needs, and in terms of the environment, it’s a very big gesture.”

Beaulieu cites a study conducted by Recyc-Québec which shows that reusing computers is 9 times better for the environment than recycling. In the case of LCD screens, it’s 24 times better. “It’s the manufacturing phase that causes the most damage to the environment,” she explains. “Recycling reduces the use of raw materials, but it still involves manufacturing.”

Insertech also helps extend the life of people’s existing computer equipment. “Often, people don’t realize their equipment can be repaired. Manufacturers are not interested; people are just told to buy new equipment.” For example, she says, many people think that LCD screens cannot be repaired. “It’s completely false. Our success rate for repairing LCD screens is over 70 percent.”

Ultimately, says Beaulieu, her organization wants to convince people of two things: “Yes, it’s important to get rid of your equipment in an ecological way, and not just put it in the garbage, because it contains hazardous waste,” says Beaulieu. “But, while recycling is good, reusing is much better.”

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If you doubt that the materials from our green bins really get recycled, consider this: the landfill charges the City of Montreal about $70-80 per tonne to take in residual materials. But the sorting centre doesn’t charge the City anything—it makes its money from reselling the materials to recyclers.

The other thing that might convince you is a tour of the centre itself.

Inside the sorting plant. (Photo courtesy of the City of Montreal.)

The sorting centre is a big dusty plant with noisy machinery and a network of conveyors filled with all kinds of, well, what looks like garbage. The materials coming in are far from clean. Workers wear dust masks and safety goggles—as do visitors. “Since we began accepting mixed recycling in 2009 (i.e. residents no longer have to separate their recyclables), people have become more careless about rinsing containers,” says Alain Leduc, from the City of Montreal’s Direction de l’environnement et du développement durable. “When you get half-filled ketchup and mayonnaise jars, it creates mould and spores.”

Located in the St-Michel Environmental Complex, the Centre de récupération et de tri des matières recyclables de Montréal is housed in an old building of the former Miron quarry. Although the premises are owned by the City of Montreal, the centre is operated by the Groupe TIRU, which has a ten-year contract (2009-2018) to take in all of the island’s recyclables. That amounted to 148,000 tonnes in 2010; the number is expected to climb to 200,000 in the next few years. It is by far the largest sorting centre in Quebec, and one of the bigger ones in North America.

The sorting process

To start, four or five workers do a visual, manual sorting as the materials roll by on a swift-moving conveyor, picking out items that are not recyclable. “We get all kinds of things: computers, tires, sinks,” says Leduc. “People may have good intentions, but we have to remove these items.”

Workers also pick out the plastic bags and toss them into a bin for mixed plastics. “Plastic bags are the bane of the recycling plant,” Leduc says. “They get caught in the machinery, clogging it up and slowing it down.” Indeed, throughout our visit, bits of plastic were visible everywhere, wrapped around the system’s disks and gears, or dangling from ceiling pipes. “That’s why it’s so important to put all your bags and soft plastics in one bag and tie it up,” he explains. “Workers can easily spot and pick out a bundle of bags, but loose bags often get missed.”

After the initial manual sorting, the materials start going through the automated systems. First is a system of rotating disks, which carries flat items like paper and cardboard upward and onto a different conveyor: the goal is to send all the fibres to one side of the centre, where they are sorted into cardboard, newspaper, and other (mixed) paper. Glass gets crushed and falls down; plastic and metal continue through.

Next, a magnet picks up the metal objects (except for aluminium, which is sorted at the end. Note: aluminium is also the most valuable material for recyclers). Finally, plastics get sorted by an optical reader: using tiny beams of light, the machine detects the different types of plastic, sending plastics 1 and 2 (most valuable plastics) one way and plastics 3,4,5 and 7 into the mixed plastics (plastic 6 is not recyclable).

The peanut butter jar dilemma

“When you have a choice between taking your empty peanut butter container, rinsing it out and putting it in your bin so that it can be recycled into another plastic object, versus putting it in the garbage, burying it in a landfill, and then extracting more oil to make new plastic, the choice is clear,” says Leduc.

The automated systems do not catch everything, so at every stage, workers are stationed along the conveyors to manually sort items the machines have missed. As they’re sorted, the materials drop down into alcoves. On the lower floor, materials are pushed out from the alcoves and into a compactor, bundled like bales of hay, and then loaded onto trucks.

The City still pays some of the recycling costs. For example, it shares the disposal costs for items that cannot be recycled—about 6-7% of the materials collecte. The current contract also stipulates that beyond a certain threshold, the sorting centre and the City share losses or profits. “In 2010, we arrived about even,” Leduc says.

Bales of plastics 1 and 2 stand ready to be sent off to recyclers. (Photo by Eve Krakow)

A global market

The bundled materials are sold to recyclers, who transform them into substances that manufacturers can use to make new objects. Because the sorting centre’s revenues come exclusively from selling the materials, they generally go to the highest bidder. Yes, that means that a lot of materials get shipped overseas.

“The fact is that Asia is a major consumer of raw and recycled materials,” says Leduc. “If the sorting centre can get $100/tonne of paper from a company in Asia, but they can’t get even $50/tonne here, the choice is obvious.” However, the City did include a clause in the centre’s contract stating that if two companies are offering the same price, the centre must choose the most local buyer. “But beyond that, we can’t tell the centre to lose money. Even non-profit sorting centres go where the market is.”

Leduc adds that efforts are being made to keep more materials at home: for example, he sits on a committee with representatives from Recyc-Québec and various industry associations that aims to bring Quebec recyclers and sorting centres closer together. “Progress has been made within the last six to twelve months,” he says.

The 2008-2009 crisis

Recycling skeptics are quick to point to the 2009 crisis, when prices fell, demand dried up, and sorting centres were forced to stockpile materials. “Recyclers were hit by the world economic crisis like everyone else,” Leduc explains. The effects were just felt a little later, because recyclers are further along the economic chain. “People stopped buying newspapers, so manufacturers didn’t need as much paper, and so recyclers had no buyers.”

However, he said, no materials were ever sent to landfill. Today, most of the stockpiled materials have been sold or redistributed through the recycling system. Prices and demand are back to normal. “But it remains a fragile, vulnerable market.”

Related articles: What is the City honestly doing with its recyclables?

Related posts: A visit to where out garbage really goes

More FAQs

  • While shredded documents are recyclable, they can get caught in equipment or fly off the conveyor. Shredding also reduces the paper’s recyclability, because it cuts up the fibres. Leduc’s advice is to shred only what’s absolutely necessary.
  • Computers, LCD or plasma screens, and other ICT devices should be brought to an ecocentre, where they will be reused, recycled, or disposed of in a safe way.
  • If you’re not sure whether or not something can be recycled, get informed: call your Eco-quartier, consult the City’s website and Household Recycling Tips (PDF), or call the City’s info-line, 311.

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During lunch hour, Montreal’s downtown food courts are filled with thousands of people eating lunch — almost all of them on Styrofoam plates. The meal lasts a few minutes but the Styrofoam stays in the landfill for hundreds of years.

Yet there is one major shopping centre just off the island that has switched to reusable dishes, cutlery and glasses.

(This story originally appeared in OpenFile Montréal: Ceramic plates in food courts: Laval’s doing it, why can’t Montreal?)

In November 2009, Carrefour Laval inaugurated a fully renovated, redesigned food court (or “Dining Terrace”) that incorporates a number of green initiatives — including the use of real dinnerware and cutlery.

The dish service is run entirely by the centre: food court staff bring the used plates, bowls, cups, glasses and cutlery to a giant dishwasher, and then back to the food court’s vendors (17 fast-food restaurants and 8 specialty food stores).

Carrefour Laval's giant dishwasher can clean 14,000 pieces of dinnerware per hour, using only 25 ml of water per dish. Photo courtesy of Carrefour Laval.

And the centre has gone even further. “There are no garbage cans in the food court,” explains Micheline Caron-Groulx, Carrefour Laval’s Marketing Director. “Customers bring their tray to a station where our staff sort the waste. All the organic waste goes into a pulper and is then brought to a City of Laval composting centre.”

This kind of service does cost more for restaurants than what they would pay in a traditional food court. But while Caron-Groulx did not have information on how it affects restaurants’ bottom lines, she notes that “sales are very good. We have had a lot of positive feedback from customers.”

In fact, Cadillac Fairview, the company that owns and operates Carrefour Laval, has incorporated the concept into its revitalization of the Toronto Eaton Centre, currently underway. It is also considering implementing the model in some of its other Montreal-area centres.

“I think this is where customers are at,” says Caron-Groulx. “People are looking for more ecological solutions. A few years ago it was okay to walk around with a plastic water bottle; today it’s not.”

Too expensive?

Back in Montreal, most food court diners are still eating off of plastic or Styrofoam plates. But at least one food court is trying to integrate reusable dishes. At Carrefour Industrial Alliance located on Ste-Catherine near Metcalfe, nine of the food court’s 20 restaurants use real plates or bowls. It’s a policy encouraged by the administration, although the individual restaurants are responsible for buying and washing their own dishes.

“Originally, the idea was to use all reusable dishes, but it would have been much too expensive,” explained Myriam Clouët des Pesruches, Project Manager at Ahern Real Estate Corporation, which manages Carrefour Industrial Alliance. “So instead of making it mandatory, we opted for an individual approach.” Restaurants that choose to use reusable dishes are helped out by the food court’s cleaning staff who are instructed to help collect the dishes, scrape them off, and bring them back to the restaurants. Clouët des Pesruches estimates that using reusable dishes has reduced the amount of garbage produced at the food court by half.

Fiore Bistro, at the Carrefour Industrielle Alliance food court downtown, has been using real plates and cutlery for 11 years.

Mahmoud Baioumy, co-owner of Fiore Bistro, says his restaurant was one of the first to use real dishes and real cutlery when it opened in the Industrial Alliance food court 11 years ago. “We wanted to bring Montreal up to date, with a different image,” he said. “Our customers appreciate it, especially business people: they want food that is ready quickly, but they still want real restaurant food.”

Yes, it’s costly, says Baioumy, and yes, they lose some plates and cutlery because of breakage and theft. But he believes it’s worth it. “People come back to us for the quality of our food and the service,” he said. He adds that real dishes are not only better for the environment, but they’re cleaner — straight out of the dishwasher.

While most diners interviewed said they chose their meal for the food, not the type of plates, “it can influence my choice,” said customer Noémi Lamarre, who works downtown. She eats in food courts often, and would like to see more establishments using reusable dishes. One visitor from Switzerland seemed to find the whole fast-food court set-up odd, explaining that where he comes from you just find individual restaurants, and always real dishes.

Clouët des Pesruches says the costs of implementing a system like the Carrefour Laval’s would be far too expensive for their restaurant tenants. But she does not exclude the possibility entirely. “If we can find a solution that is manageable in terms of costs, we will consider it,” she said.

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By now most of us know what can and cannot but recycled, but there are always those miscellaneous items: cash register receipts? Tissue wrapping paper? What about those plastic packages from “fresh” pasta that don’t have any number symbol? Plastic hangers? Metal hangers? And if I’m not sure, am I better off putting it in, or not? They say to “rinse” everything — what if I don’t? Will it still get recycled? Will it “contaminate” the whole load?

Most of all, how much of the stuff collected truly gets recycled?

My plan is to arrange a visit to Montreal’s sorting/recycling plant, and to sit down with someone there to ask all my questions. But first, I’m collecting your questions: so, what have you always wanted to know about recycling?

Send me your questions through this blog, by email, via Twitter @EveKrakow, or through Montreal OpenFile’s “growing file,” Everything you always wanted to know about recycling but were afraid to ask.

I look forward to hearing from you!


Related posts:

A visit to where our garbage really goes

Styrofoam: California bans it; Montreal hopes to recycle it

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While California moves to ban the use of Styrofoam containers from the take-out food industry, Montreal is at least trying to figure out how to recover and recycle this ubiquitous material.

Montrealers still have until August 31 to bring their Styrofoam containers and other Number 6 plastics to the Eadie Ecocentre, at 1868 Cabot Street, as part of a pilot project to determine whether these materials can be recycled in a way that is both economically and environmentally viable.

“We have to prove that it (recycling Styrofoam) can be profitable. We have to create a demand for this material,” says Claude Maheux-Picard, head of the pilot project being carried out by industry, research and City of Montreal partners.

For more about the Montreal pilot project, please see my original article at Montreal.OpenFile.ca, “Montreal pilot project tests recyclability of Styrofoam”.

The Plastic No. 6 dilemma

California’s ban

Meanwhile, California is on its way to banning take-out Styrofoam containers entirely. The Senate has approved a bill that would “prohibit a food vendor, on and after January 1, 2016, from dispensing prepared food to a customer in a polystyrene foam food container and would define related items.” (Note: “Styrofoam” is actually the trade name for expanded polystyrene foam.)

The bill would apply to all restaurants and grocery stores, but only for prepared foods. Polystyrene foam containers would still be allowed in cities or counties with a recycling program for this material. (See full text of Bill 568, or its history and status).

Fifty California jurisdictions have already banned foam takeout food packaging, including Huntington Beach, Santa Monica, Malibu and Ventura County. Expanded polystyrene foam is of particular concern to Californians because it is the second-most-common type of beach debris, according to a study by the Southern California Coastal Water Quality Research Project. (Source)

The Assembly is scheduled to hear the bill at the end of August; if it passes there, it will move to the governor’s desk.

Back in Montreal…

It seems unlikely that Montreal would even consider such a ban. Food vendors love Styrofoam because it is lightweight, solid, an excellent insulator, and cheap. “There are definitely other options on the market, but they’re more expensive,” says Claude Maheux-Picard, head of the Montreal pilot project and technical director of the Centre de transfert technologique en écologie industrielle, the research centre that will study the material collected.

Steve and Jono Aitchison, Burritoville owners, display their compostable restaurant ware.

But a few local vendors have made the switch. Burritoville has been using strictly compostable items for take-out since it opened at its Bishop Street location three and a half years ago. To wrap the burritos, they use paper with a soy-based waxy coating; take-out cartons are made of sugar-cane fibre, plastic containers for sauces are made from corn syrup; take-out cutlery is made from potato starch.

“It’s definitely more expensive,” say cousins Stephen and Jono Aitchison, who own the restaurant along with Dave Tamas. Jono points to one of the sugar-cane fibre cartons. “This costs 27 cents. A Styrofoam container would be less than 1 penny.”

To help offset the costs, the restaurant charges an extra 25 cents for take-out orders. It doesn’t quite cover the costs (one order usually includes several items), but it helps — and it raises customer awareness. They also encourage customers to bring their own containers for take-out.

“The process to make the compostable containers is still ‘dirty’ (pollutes and uses resources),” notes Stephen. But he and Jono believe using compostable containers is still one step better than using one-off containers, or even recyclable containers, which don’t always get recycled. (See their local supplier, ECO 2 Bureau, for more “green solutions” for home, office, restaurant and event needs.)

And they make yummy burritos, too.

Some more links

Yes on SB 568 – California Foam Reduction” 

Recycle Styrofoam cups: Is it possible?

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