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Winnipeg’s recycling needs to get cleaner; instead, people are putting dirty diapers in the blue bin

May 3, 2019

Dirty diapers and online shopping packaging are part of the reason Winnipeg recycling contamination has seen a 38 per cent jump in the last two years, the city says.

The way municipalities handle recycling changed when China started restricting contaminated materials last year, but people — and local systems — are slower to catch up. City of Winnipeg waste diversion supervisor Mark Kinsley says people need to change the way they think about recycling.

"They're standing there in front of the garbage and the recycling, and they are putting more good stuff in the recycling. But with that comes the old 'well, I'm not sure so I'll just put it in recycling and they'll sort it out,'" Kinsley said.

That approach isn't good enough anymore, he says.

"If you're not sure, find out."

In 2016, 13 per cent of the city's recycling was contaminated with non-recyclable garbage. By 2018, it was 18 per cent.

Another possible explanation for that is Winnipeggers seeing what's accepted in other towns or cities, and assuming those materials can be here. Diapers, for example, can be taken by cities with composting programs — and Kinsley wonders if that's the reason people put dirty diapers in their Winnipeg blue bins.

But unlike some other contamination that can be sorted out, "there's no wiggle room" on diapers, he said.

Contamination hurts the recycling program's ability to pay for itself, because the city is paid less for loads with dirty or inappropriate materials.

Across Canada, cities have struggled recently with increased costs and more stringent requirements for what can be sent to China or other places for recycling. Emterra, the company that handles the processing of Winnipeg's recycling, told Winnipeg officials last year it will cost $1.5 million more for two years to keep sending materials to be recycled in China, in the wake of the changes.

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