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Toronto's Blue Bin recycling program to accept PET clamshells

By: Mike Verespej

September 13, 2012

TORONTO (Sept. 13, 2:05 p.m. ET) — In the aftermath of a successful pilot program, Canada’s largest city, Toronto, is adding clear PET clamshell containers and all mixed rigid plastics to its Blue Bin recycling program.

Toronto becomes the third major Canadian city — along with Ottawa and Calgary — to recycle clamshells.

The Blue Bin program in Toronto currently accepts plastic bottles, jugs, jars, tubs and lids.

Those additions to the recycling stream are expected to divert 4 million pounds of plastics from landfills annually at a net cost to the city of $78,000, according to a report submitted Sept. 12 to the city council’s Public Works and Infrastructure committee by Jim Harnum, general manager of the city’s Solid Waste Management Services department.

“Solid Waste Management plans on adding all mixed rigid plastics, including plastic clamshell containers, to the Blue Bin program in the latter part of 2012,” Harnum said in the report’s summary.

“We applaud the expansion of collection to include clear PET clamshell containers,” said Dave Cornell, technical director of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, whose members have more than 90 percent of the post-consumer plastic reprocessing capacity in North America.

“PET clamshell packaging is a valuable new source of raw material for PET recycling,” he said. “The announcement is a win for the city, a win for the province, and a win for the plastics recycling industry.”

What helped opened the door for PET clamshell recycling in Toronto — which has a population of 2.6 million — was the Canadian Grocers Initiative, which went into effect this past January. That voluntary industry initiative, supported by the five major grocers in Canada, mandated the use of PET thermoformed clamshell packaging for most food packaging in grocery stores.

“Until recently, the city could not recycle plastic clamshell packaging because [it was made from] multiple plastic resins, which existing sorting technology could not process to satisfy market specifications,” said the report from the Solid Waste Management Services department.

In the report, Harnum said the types of mixed rigid clamshells that Toronto residents can now recycle are clear fruit and vegetable containers, clear takeout food containers, clear molded bakery item trays, clear food storage containers, and clear egg cartons.

He said black clamshells, typically used by restaurants, should not be recycled at this point.

“We plan to use print and other applicable advertising methods to announce the addition of the new materials and reinforce the message,” starting this autumn, said Harnum in the report to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. But the recycling of such items can begin immediately.

A year-long pilot program conducted at the Dufferin Material Recovery Facility — which handles about half of the city’s recycling — demonstrated the feasibility of that MRF to sort rigid plastics to the specifications of plastics recyclers, said the report.

In addition, the report said Toronto has signed a seven-year recycling contract with the Canada Fibers Material Recovery Facility, now under construction, to replace three smaller processors — which have been handling the rest of the city’s recycling on a short-term basis — but who do not have the capability to sort mixed rigid plastics.

Construction of the new Canadian Fibers MRF, which will have optical sorting capabilities, is expected to be completed by May 1 when the contracts with those smaller processors expire, the report said.