On March 18, countries around the world will observe Global Recycling Day. Created in 2018, the day raises awareness about the finite nature of the world’s resources and how recycling can help secure a more sustainable future.

Every year, recycling diverts untold tonnes from the world’s landfills. It also supports the fight against climate change by preventing more than 700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. By 2030, that figure is expected to hit a staggering one billion tonnes .

Albertans have a lot to celebrate on this Global Recycling Day. Although little acknowledged, Alberta was one of the first jurisdictions in Canada to appreciate that how we consume today will determine the quality of life enjoyed by the generations of tomorrow. With that belief, we built some of the country’s most innovative recycling infrastructure.

Take the Alberta Beverage Container Recycling Corporation (ABCRC), for instance. Created in 1994, we oversee the collection and recycling of more than 150,000 different types of regulated, nonrefillable beverage containers in the province. ABCRC is the second-oldest and largest such entity in Canada. What’s more, we’re a private corporation that operates as a not-for-profit, meaning we do not rely on or receive any funding from any level of government.

Going to the bottle depot is a routine weekend errand for many Albertans. What’s less familiar to Albertans is what happens after they drop off their bottles, cans, Tetra Paks, and cartons at one of the more than 220 independently owned depots across the province.

Staff at these small businesses handle the first step, sorting the roughly two billion beverage containers returned each year. ABCRC then collects and transports the sorted materials to one of our two facilities in the province, where they are condensed and shipped to commodity markets to be recycled into new products in a circular economy or into an alternative to virgin materials to produce new products.

Consider the life cycle of your aluminum can. After ABCRC has baled them and shipped them to a smelter, they’re shredded, melted, and poured into moulds to form ingots that are rolled into new can-sheet used for the formation of — new beverage containers. Recycling aluminum doesn’t reduce the quality of the metal, so this process can carry on endlessly. As unbelievable as it may sound, almost 75 per cent of all aluminum metal extracted since 1888 is still in use .

Recycling is a critical component of the circular economy, a fast-emerging model of production and consumption that — in addition to recycling — involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, and refurbishing existing materials and products for as long as possible. Many eminent organizations, including the World Economic Forum, are touting the circular economy as the business opportunity of our time.

Renowned for its spirit of entrepreneurialism and innovation, Alberta is well-positioned to succeed in the circular economy. The provincial government certainly recognizes the tremendous opportunity it represents. Just this month, the UCP committed $58 million to projects worth $528 million across the province, including producing high-quality fertilizer and recycling asphalt from roof shingles .

As Alberta continues diversifying its economy, recycling is a big — and growing — business. In 2018, the province’s recycling sector generated $700 million in economic value and supported 7,500 direct jobs. Analysis shows that the contribution could grow to $1.4 billion and 13,000 jobs .

As we have for over 25 years, ABCRC will continue playing our role. Like the province we serve, ABCRC prides itself on being forward-looking and innovative. For ABCRC, the status quo isn’t good enough.

While Alberta’s 84 per cent return rate for beverage containers is one of the highest in Canada, it’s remained unchanged for a decade. That means over 430 million beverage containers are likely going to landfills every year, despite the efforts of ABCRC, beverage manufacturers and Alberta’s Depots to help minimize their environmental impact.

We need to apply a range of lessons learned — including those during the pandemic — to find new ways to get as many products returned as possible. Recycling beverage containers may seem like a small step, but the environmental and economic benefits will play a critical role in our economy today and for our generations of tomorrow.

Guy West is president and CEO of the Alberta Beverage Container Recycling Corporation (ABCRC).

2023-03-18T01:46:43Z dg43tfdfdgfd