Jack Keir is trying to get rid of a 550,000-pound hill of post-consumer plastic collected at drop-off sites in Canada's Bay of Fundy region in New Brunswick.
Keir, general manager for the region's solid waste commission, hopes an entrepreneur or plastic lumber producer will set up shop nearby to use the region's waste plastics. The problem is, Keir's hill is an unsorted mixture most recyclers won't bother with. The Fundy region used to be selective, but a few years ago it opened its drop-off bins to all types of plastics.
The region formerly had limited success selling unsorted bales through brokers, but lately has had no takers. Keir is talking to several entrepreneurs and companies that might set up a plastic lumber facility, but he concedes the region might have to sort its materials to attract a commercial recycler.
The Fundy region collects about 9 million pounds per year of post-consumer plastic, Keir estimated in a telephone interview from his office near Saint John.
Canada's Atlantic provinces are a growing source of post-consumer plastics, but local markets for the materials are slow to develop, largely because much of the collected materials is unsorted. The provinces, meanwhile, don't want the materials to go to landfills.
``Opportunities for mixed plastics are limited,'' said Fred Edgecombe, a consultant with the Environment and Plastics Institute of Canada. Atlantic regions that don't sort collected plastics may have to rely on selling through brokers to offshore markets, he said in an interview from the EPIC office at Canadian Plastic Industry Association headquarters in Mississauga, Ontario.
Nova Scotia arguably has the most recycler-friendly plastics landscape in the area. Its curbside collecting programs reach 98 percent of the population and most of the materials are sorted.
One of the Atlantic area's few plastic lumber producers hopes to expand into Nova Scotia. Island Plastics Inc. runs a plant in Stratford, Prince Edward Island, that makes plastic lumber and converts it to benches, tables and other outdoor products. Joseph McInnis, the firm's owner, sources some of its plastics from the province's Blue Bag curbside collection program and from local dairies. It also uses waste agricultural film and commercial and industrial plastics.
Island Plastics uses polyethylenes exclusively. McInnis said he is appalled by the quality of some recycled streams available in the Atlantic area. He hopes to expand to meet a surge in orders for his firm's benches, not because there is an abundance of cheap, high quality scrap plastic.
``[Sorting care] needs to start at the household,'' McInnis said. ``You can't recycle if the bales are not sorted.''
More education among consumers and governments is needed to help clean up recycled streams, McInnis said.
Newfoundland has a bottle return deposit system and is just beginning to tackle broader recycling issues.
Despite the Atlantic region's small population - 2.3 million combined for the four provinces - markets would develop if more sorting facilities were running, according to Edgecombe.