‘Amazon effect’ at play in Winnipeg recycling bins as residents stay home, shop online

If your recycling bin is overstuffed with pizza boxes and packaging from the last time you ordered online, you’re not alone.

The recent provincial public health orders — which closed bars and restaurants for dine-in and encourage Manitobans to stay home as much as possible — are having an effect on what we consume and what happens when it’s thrown out. 

The City of Winnipeg has seen increases in the volume of material coming through the waste management system — both garbage headed for the landfill and recyclable material headed to the sorting plant.

The new GFL Environmental recycling plant was processing roughly 4,000 tonnes of material per month soon after being opened last year. That volume is increasing as Winnipeggers stay at home more.

The GFL Environmental plant can scale up production to meet the extra volume of recyclables — and earn the city extra money. (Gary Solilak/CBC )

Mark Kinsley, the city’s supervisor of waste diversion, says the statistics showed a first blip in the first partial lockdown in the spring and then again this fall.

“There has definitely has been a noticeable uptick that we attribute to the pandemic … it’s totally connected to people being at home and producing more of their own garbage at home as opposed to being out and that garbage staying whereever that may be,” Kinsley told CBC News.

The frequency with which people order goods on the Internet — and the cardboard that produces — has even been given a name based on the world’s largest online retailers.

“People are definitely ordering more. The ‘Amazon effect’ is an actual term in the industry, where way more cardboard is coming into these programs,” Kinsley said.

System can handle increased volumes

Kinsley says it can be difficult to pin down exactly how much of an increase in solid waste and recycling can be attributed to the pandemic.

The city entered into a new contract with GFL Environmental last year and its plant is set up differently from the facility the previous company operated. There are also seasonal upturns in volume and a natural growth in online shopping that would likely happen regardless of the health orders.

Kinsley says the good news is both the collection system and the processing facility can handle significant increases of solid waste and recycling.

“They can add equipment on the collection side. They can add staff time. You can do that quite quickly. On the processing side, it’s a matter of you adding time to how long the system is running,” Kinsley said.

Determining the effect on cost of all those Amazon boxes and take-out cartons requires a look at the balance the city has struck on its contract with GFL.

If your personal blue box is full you can take the extra to one of the city’s transfer stations. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The city pays for any increase in volume through the massive recycling plant in the St. Boniface Industrial Park, but gets 100 per cent of any sales of the processed material.

“Recycling is based on volume, so the more there is the more it costs, but on the other hand once you sort it the more revenue you have coming back —so it goes both ways,” Kinsley says.

Kinsley says there is a stronger market these days for recycled material as more people order online and it arrives with the appropriate packaging.

The waste diversion supervisor is keen to promote the idea of recycling; the more reusable material the city can get, the more it keeps out of the landfill and send off for a second life somewhere else.

He says residents with an overflowing blue bin days before pickup can take the extra material to one of the city’s 4-R depots or transfer stations or just hold on to the extra cardboard and other items until the next pickup.

Kinsley does ask people to give a brief rinse to soiled items that are recyclable and mind what they throw into the bin is on the city’s list of material that is acceptable for reuse.

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