Our recyclables and the foreign market

Recently there has been media attention surrounding Calgary's recyclable materials no longer being accepted by certain foreign markets, including China.  Please take a look at the information below for more insight on how the City of Airdrie may be impacted by this change. 

Recyclable materials are commodities that are sold on an open market. Like other commodities, markets for different recyclable materials fluctuate, and this can affect how easily we are able to sell what we collect. If a market for a particular material is poor, we will stockpile that material until the situation improves.

There is currently a market downturn for the following product that we collect in the Blue Cart program:

  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics, used in things like clamshell packaging for produce like berries and lettuce, and

Cascades Recovery + (who processes and markets material on behalf of the City of Airdrie) has been successful in moving mixed paper to a market outside of China but is currently having trouble moving PET Plastics.

They are continuing to look at different alternatives for selling these materials. In the meantime some plastic material is being stored until a good option can be found.

Why is the market in a downturn?
Recyclables are commodities just like oil and precious metals, and their markets go up and down depending on supply and demand. For example, a few years ago it was difficult to sell newsprint but now there are multiple markets available for this material.

What is the National Sword Program in China, and is this causing the market issue?
The National Sword Program is a Chinese government initiative aimed at improving the quality of recyclable commodities being imported. Loads of recyclables are being closely inspected under this program to ensure that quality standards are met.

PET plastics and mixed paper are recycled by manufacturers around the globe. The Chinese market is one of many, but does represent a large percentage of the recycling market for many commodities. The National Sword Program is the primary factor impacting the supply and demand of mixed paper and PET as raw materials in manufacturing.

How much material are you stockpiling?
Currently there are 18.41 MT of Baled PET Mixed Plastic from August, September and Octobers curbside material that are in inventory.

Where are you storing the plastic?
Due to the small quantity of inventory of Airdrie material, Cascades is currently storing material at their facility. This is an easy, secure way to temporarily store the material while they look for a buyer.

Will you consider landfilling the material?
No. This material is highly recyclable, and we will continue working to find a suitable buyer.

How much is it costing for storage?
Right now our material is being stored at Cascades which we do not need to pay for.

It’s important to keep in mind that like all commodities, markets for various recyclable materials go up and down. During the downturns we frequently stockpile in order to seek a better price when markets recover.

Are you stockpiling any other material?
We are currently not stockpiling any other recyclable materials.

Should residents continue to put PET plastic in their blue carts?
Yes. This is a temporary market fluctuation, and we want residents to stay in the habit of keeping these materials out of the landfill. We will manage them until a suitable buyer can be found.

Residents can help out by following best practices like bagging their plastic bags to keep them from getting in to paper and other material at the sorting facility. This will improve the quality of our recyclables and will make them easier to sell.


Contact us

Waste & Recycling

P. 403.948.0246

F. 403.948.8819