Have you ever wondered what happens to your waste after you throw it away? Every community generates waste in different areas—residential, commercial, institutional, construction and demolition, and industrial. Also, the responsibility for managing and reducing waste is shared among different groups including different levels of government, collectors, processors, manufacturers, etc.
As you can see in the flow chart below, the waste management system is complex.
Why is it important to sort our waste?
There are many reasons to sort your waste correctly:
- When recyclable materials are reused it means fewer natural resources are needed to create new products.
- Less waste means less need for landfills, which reduces pollution to the water, air and land.
- Recycling and composting creates four jobs for every one job created in waste disposal.
- Waste reduction and recycling programs connect communities by working towards a common goal.
- Less waste leads to a better quality of life for individuals, the community and future generations.
- The goal is to keep materials circulating within the economy for as long as possible. This is what's known as a circular economy.
Where does it go?
Organics and extra yard waste
The contents of your green cart are taken to a local facility where they are turned into compost. The process takes about one year. Because the composting happens at an industrial scale, the organic materials reach high temperatures. This allows us to include meats, dairy products, pet waste and other organic materials that cannot go in a backyard compost pile.
The finished compost is spread over farmer's fields where it helps grow new crops such as hemp, barley and canola. It's important to keep plastics out of the organics to avoid spreading the plastic on the fields we use to grow our food.
Did you know that organic materials don't break down in a landfill? Landfills are sealed tightly so air and water can't get to the organic materials which stops them from decomposing. It can take decades for a simple banana peel to break down in a landfill!
Watch the video below to see how organics are processed into compost.
Blue bag recycling
The recyclable materials collected in the blue bags go to a local materials recovery facility (MRF). There the recycling is separated into categories such as metal cans, paper products and hard plastic containers. Once sorted, the materials are sold to companies that turn them into new materials. We look for companies in North America if possible, but if there are none then we look into international markets.
- Aluminum cans are made into new cans. Did you know there is no limit to the number of times an aluminum can can be recycled? Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a TV for three hours!
- Hard plastic containers, bottles and tubs broken down into plastic pellets. These pellets are sold to be made into new products such as bottles, plastic bags, bottle caps, and waste carts. Strathcona County's carts are more than 60% recycled materials.
- Paper products are made into other paper products such as box board, cardboard and other recycled paper. Each tonne of recycled paper saves 17 trees, 4,000 kilowatts of energy and 7,000 gallons of water.
Remember to rinse and dry your recyclable containers. Companies purchasing recyclable items are looking for the best quality. Clean recyclables are more likely to be turned into new products.
Glass is collected in large bins at our recycle stations. Glass is no longer collected in the blue bags if it breaks it contaminates the rest of the recycling in the bag. Once we have around 40 tonnes of glass it is broken up and sold to a company that uses it for sandblasting.
Styrofoam is collected in large bins at our recycle stations. Styrofoam is no longer collected in the blue bags because if it breaks it contaminates the rest of the recycling in the bag.
Large pieces of white packing Styrofoam are put into a machine that crushes and condenses it into bricks. A full 50 foot trailer of Styrofoam turns into a pile of bricks the size of a dishwasher! These dense bricks are then shipped to a recycler to be made into faux marble and wood products, or crown molding.
Household hazardous waste
Household chemicals, such as batteries, pesticides, and household cleaners, are collected at the Broadview Enviroservice building. It's important to label them correctly as it is combined into large drums, and then sent away to be properly disposed of. These materials need to be kept out of landfills since they can leech out and contaminate our water and soil.
Tires can be dropped off at our recycle stations for the Alberta Recycling Management Authority. Recycled tires are turned into playground surfaces, sidewalk blocks, matting products and roofing tiles
Electronics are collected at the Broadview Enviroservice building for the Alberta Recycling Management Authority. Electronics contain many valuable materials that can be broken down and reused. The steel, aluminum and copper metal found in the wires, cables and circuits is used as raw material for new products. The glass from television and computer screens is melted down and reused to make new products. The plastic from the cases, keyboards and mouse become plastic pellets, and are used to make new products.
The goal of Alberta's electronics recycling program is to stop electronics from being shipped to other countries where they are illegally dumped, and scavenged for their precious metals. If the electronics are not taken apart safely the toxic materials they contain can contaminate the land, water and air.
By bringing your electronics to a municipal collection site you make sure your old electronics are processed safely and responsibly right here in Alberta.
Paint is collected at the Broadview Enviroservice building for the Alberta Recycling Management Authority. Latex paint is recycled into new paint, such as the EcoCoat paint you can buy at Broadview. Oil based paint is used in alternative fuel sources. Aerosol containers, paint cans and plastic pails are recycled as metals and plastics.
Oil is also collected at the Broadview Enviroservice building for the Alberta Recycling Management Authority. High quality used oil is re-refined into new oil. Lower quality used oil is made into a fuel that can be used by pulp mills, cement plants, asphalt plants, and other industrial applications.
The plastic oil containers are turned into pellets and made into new products such as new containers, guardrails, fence posts and railway ties.
Landfills are made to store waste and prevent it from contaminating the environment. They are not made to help waste decompose. A simple banana peel can take decades to break down in a landfill, so let's keep it out of there!
When you sort your waste correctly we can keep as much as possible out of the landfill, which means it will be a long time before we fill it up and need a new one.