Inside the recycling plant

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Inside the recycled material recovery facility on Sheffield Rd., where City of Ottawa residents' blue box contents are sorted and processed. Photos by Jon Connor.

Ever wondered what happens to your blue box contents once they've been picked up?

The container plant operated by Cascades on Sheffield Rd. processes 83 tonnes of blue box recyclables every day from 42 collection vehicles. Here's how that happens along the way:IMG 0637

Main conveyor feed: Material is dumped onto a large conveyor belt. An optical sensor stops the belt when material piles up at the top.

Backscraping or metering drum: Controls the amount of material entering the system, spreads material out and tears bags open.

Pre-sorting: Bags are opened. Large garbage is pulled off. Scrap metal and bulky plastics are sorted for recycling.

Ballistic separator: Carries flat items like paper, cardboard and plastic bags up to a sorting station where fibre is separated from film. Missed containers are thrown back into the line. Three-dimensional items fall down the paddles onto a conveyor that takes them into the next sorting area. Glass is broken by the paddles and sent down.

Drum magnet and cyclone: The conveyor carries material up and drops it over a spinning magnet, which captured steel items and sends them to a separate conveyor. The rest of the material falls on a fine screen, where small items, mostly glass, fall through and are conveyed to a cyclone that vacuums lightweight material away from the glass.

Optical sorters: The remaining material is spread out over speed belts and sent to two optical sorters. These sorters use infrared light to read material types, and air jets to blow the targeted objects to the desired place.

Optical sorter 1 directs polycoats down the first chute, and #1 plastics upward to the third chute. The remaining material falls through the middle chute to continue to optical sorter 2.

Optical sorter 2 directs #2 plastics down the first chute, and #3-7 plastics upward to the third chute. The remaining material falls through the middle chute to continue to manual sort line.

Manual sort line: Here, people pull off items that were missed by the mechanical sorting systems and throw them into the proper bunkers.

Eddy current separator: Uses a magnetic rotor to create eddy currents in the aluminum cans. The aluminum is propelled forward while gravity lets the remaining material drop onto the residual belt.

Waste-recoveryResidual belt: Leads to optical sorter 3, which redirects missed materials back into the system, while residual material drops into the residual bunker.

Baler: When the bunker for any targeted material fills up, it is transported to a baler and compacted into bales for shipping. The bales weigh between 500 and 1,000 kg, depending on the material.

Quality control: A quality control person at the end of each sort pulls out unwanted material and sends it back into the system.


Top "bin sins"

The worst contaminants found in City of Ottawa residents' blue boxes are:

  1. Household hazardous waste (oil, gas, pesticides, herbicides) in full or partly full containers or aerosol cans
  2. Propane and helium cylinders
  3. Batteries
  4. Plastic bags and films (grocery bags, milk and chip bags, cling wrap, cellophane wrapping). Please don't place your recyclables in bags.
  5. Garden items (tools, hoses, garden edging, lawn furniture, pool liners)
  6. Small appliances (toasters, broilers, microwaves) and power tools (drills, saws)
  7. Kitchenware (plates, cups and other ceramics, pots, pans)
  8. Random metal and plastic (car parts, children’s toys)
  9. Paper and cardboard, which belongs in the black box. However, some cardboard-like food and beverage containers, such as milk and ice cream cartons, as well as frozen juice cans, do belong in the blue bin.
  10. Organic materials (food, plants), which belong in the green bin

The worst contaminants in black boxes are:

  1. Plastic bags and plastic film (grocery bags, milk and chip bags, cling wrap, cellophane wrapping). Please don't place your recyclables in bags.
  2. Blue bin materials, especially gable-top containers (milk and juice cartons), aseptic containers (Tetra Paks), cans and beverage containers, which all belong in the blue box
  3. Metal automotive parts (rotors, calipers, pads)
  4. General waste
  5. Batteries

Ottawa's blue box stream has a contamination rate of about 20 percent, compared to only about 4 percent for black boxes.

If you're not sure whether an item belongs in your blue box, black box, green bin or the garbage, you can look it up in the City of Ottawa's Waste Explorer.

Ottawa Children's Garden soil contamination

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The City’s Environmental Remediation Unit recently found shallow soil contamination at Robert F. Legget Park and the Ottawa Children’s Garden at 321 Main St. in Old Ottawa East. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) compounds were detected at concentrations exceeding provincial standards.

Although these contaminants pose a risk to human health, that possibility is based on conservative lifetime exposure limits. Health effects from exposure to PAHs usually arise only in cases of prolonged exposure.

Over the winter, the City will undertake a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) to determine the full extent of the contamination, then develop a plan to implement appropriate risk management measures and/or remediation of the site.

The City and Ottawa Public Health do not consider the current risk to be acute or immediate, and the contaminated soil is unlikely to have a health impact on anyone unless the soil itself was ingested.


Key facts

  • Ottawa Public Health has confirmed that the soil at 321 Main St. poses no immediate risk to residents.
  • Eating fruits or vegetables from the garden over a short period of time should not cause any negative health effects.
  • When the Ottawa Children’s Garden was established in 2009, the soil underwent testing and was within the acceptable provincial levels. These provincial standards were updated in 2011, and allowed levels for most PAH compounds were decreased.
  • Soil samples taken in October 2016 revealed PAH levels exceeding the newer provincial standards.
  • The Phase II Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) will collect further information about the soil and determine the full extent of the contamination.
  • Based on the results of the Phase II ESA, the City will develop a plan to implement appropriate risk management measures and/or remediation at the property in 2017.

Questions and answers

What are Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons?
PAHs are a group of more than 100 chemicals generated from the incomplete combustion of fuels, waste or other organic substances. The dominant sources of PAHs in the environment are associated with human activity and  are commonly found in older urban areas, particularly those used for industrial purposes or manufacturing. PAHs are contained in asphalt, crude oil, coal, ash, coal tar pitch, creosote and vehicle exhaust. They can occur throughout the environment in the air, attached to dust particles, or as solids in soil or sediment.

Councillors embrace "climate protection"

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Capital Coun. David Chernushenko convinced the finance and economic development committee to rename the environment committee to include "climate protection" in the title. PAT MCGRATH / OTTAWA CITIZEN

Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen

Capital Coun. David Chernushenko sold climate protection to his colleagues today.

At first, he appeared to have lost his pitch to change the name of the environment committee he chairs to the “environment and climate protection committee.” It was an idea he came up with last February when the committee considered a report on climate change.

According to discussions the clerk’s office had with council members during the mid-term governance review, there wasn’t a consensus on changing the committee’s name and the proposal was destined for failure.

Since the governance review was up for approval at the finance and economic development committee, it was Chernushenko’s chance to force a vote on his idea. It seemed his inclusion of “protection” in the title swayed councillors like Jan Harder, Mark Taylor and Keith Egli.

Others, like Scott Moffatt and Allan Hubley, didn’t support it. As Moffatt explained, you don’t need to make symbolic changes to committee titles to actually do the work. What’s next, he mused, calling the transportation committee the “transportation and complete streets committee?”

We could go on.

Should the finance and economic development committee be called the “finance and economic development and Ottawa 2017 and brownfield applications and BIA boundary adjustment committee”?

Chernushenko argues, yes, it’s a symbolic gesture to have climate protection in the environment committee name, but so what? For him, it’s an important gesture since the city might have the most intimate role to play in climate protection.

Ottawa's new water rate structure has a few leaks

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Erwin Dreessen, Ottawa Citizen

Four things stand out after the City of Ottawa’s environment committee unanimously approved a new water, wastewater and stormwater fee structure last Tuesday.

1. The very low water user will get shafted. “Kim, from Westboro,” as she is named in the staff documents, who uses just five cubic metres of water a month (compared to an average of 16 c/m per household), will see her bill go up from $20 a month to $33.

She may live in a tiny house, be away often, be rich or poor, but she cannot be happy with that change. If low water usage was a lifestyle choice, she no longer has an incentive to save water. The proposed rate structure includes some measures to attenuate the effect on low users of introducing a fixed charge; without them the impact would be even worse. But the harsh impact remains, and not just for Kim.

The staff report admits that “single detached homes that consume less than 12 cubic metres per month will see an increase in their water bill of between $3 to $13 per month due to the impact of the fixed charge.”

This should be corrected. Making the first six c/m free for everybody and recalibrating the rates should do it.


2. It now appears widely recognized that, back in 2001, city council made a mistake when it removed the cost of maintaining rural road ditches and culverts from the property tax side and had it funded by the water rate-supported budget. It would seem straightforward to correct that error but ho! – without actually increasing the tax-based budget, that would come at the expense of the current rural road maintenance budget, which is already under duress.

This is a vivid illustration of why an inflexible cap of a two-per-cent property-tax increase is bad policy. There should be exceptions.  Errors should be corrected. We’re talking about $2.6 million that now must be funnelled to the roads budget through the back door.