What happens to the stuff in your blue bin?

This Council and City administration are trying to make some big changes when it comes to landfill diversion. Operating a dump is expensive, not to mention the environmental concerns. Plus there's money to be made off of selling recyclable materials, bio-gas, and waste-to-energy systems. That's why I appreciate when residents reach out and ask questions about how the blue bin recycling program works. Items you chuck in that bin doesn't magically turn into post-consumer waste products. Here are some details based on the exchange between City staff and a Ward 3 resident.

General information about Emterra, which is the company that operates Regina's recycling service:

The City’s contracted operator for the recycling facility is Emterra Environmental. All material from the curbside recycling service and the Big Blue Bins are taken to this facility for processing. The contract requires the processor to recover 90% of all recyclable material taken to the facility. They are audited every month to ensure this recovery rate is met. In 2021, Emterra averaged a 93.5% recovery rate. Emterra sells recyclables to North American recycling markets, of which the City receives a 25% revenue share. In 2021, the City received over $300,000 in revenue from the sale of recyclable materials. The Chinese National Sword resulted in changes to the recycling industry and during that time period, Emterra did not landfill recyclable material but found alternative end markets, at a loss.

The materials that are not recycled are the unrecovered recyclable items and contamination that residents put into their cart. Unrecyclable items are sent to the landfill or recycled through other avenues like scrap metal recyclers. If material is brought to the landfill, Emterra pays the landfill rate as would any landfill customer. Emterra is paid to process the recyclables and they are solely responsible for the costs of operating the  recycling facility including disposal of the contaminants that residents put into their carts.

 Glass is collected in the blue cart, however, in any co-mingled collection system there is the risk of breakage to glass materials as it gets transported, dumped onto the tipping floor and processed through the sorting line. Approximately 5% off all material received at the City facility is glass (by weight, not volume as glass is heavier than a number of plastics and paper), with approximately 1% of the glass being recovered. The City has partnered with SARCAN to allow residents to bring glass jars and bottles to SARCAN directly. These materials are source separated and sent directly to a glass processing facility, resulting in 100% of that material being recycled.

Specific operational questions:

What is the ratio of paper to plastic recycling? Is there different rates for recovery between paper and plastic?

Approximately 70% of all material received at the recycling facility is fibre (paper/cardboard etc.) and 6.3% is plastic. The recovery rate is for all materials received at the facility, not by material type.  

The goal is 90%. Is that 90% of the total amount collected in these trucks? Or does Emterra distinguish between things that are not recyclable (dirty pizza boxes, etc) and then excude them from this 90% goal? (Ie, only 50% of the collected bins is actually recyclable, therefore we only need to recover 90% of the smaller 50%.)

The recovery rate does not take into account contamination (non-recyclable items) because that material is not recyclable and cannot be recovered. If the City receives 20% garbage in the recycling and the balance is recyclable, then 90% of the recyclable material put in the carts by residents has to be recovered.

What is an example of a North American market? Who is taking these things? From end-to-end, what is the proportion of recying that is picked up from my alley and then ends up as useful consumer goods again? The recovery rate would indicate the amount of recyclables going to end markets for other uses. Please separate between plastic and paper. 

North American markets means end market buyers that purchase our recyclables and reside within North America. In other words, the recyclables sold from our processing facility that are purchased by a North American buyer would stay on the continent. End markets are proprietary information for the recycling processor. Due to contractual obligations, the City is unable to release specific end market buyer information. The contract we have with our recycling processor ensures that all recovered recyclables are purchased by these end market buyers and cannot be taken to a landfill for disposal.

Our recycling programs sends to markets of the collected items approximately 75% paper and cardboard and roughly 5-6% plastics by weight. The remaining amount is divided between glass, metals, contaminants etc.

The City has partnered with SARCAN for residents to have an option to take glass to a facility where it is source separated. In recycling collection systems, residents can source separate (each item taken separately) or co-mingle (everything in one container and sorted at the facility).  There are cost and benefits to both of these system. The City implemented a co-mingled recycling system in 2013 for resident convenience.

Please clarify whether that 1% is of all glass (i.e. 99% is trucked to the landfill) or if it's 1% of the 5% (ie 20% total glass recovered). 

The 1% is of the 5% received. 100% is recovered if you take it to SARCAN.


Curbside Service

Current Cost

2024 Cost

Garbage Collection & Disposal

$8.9 M

$6.7 M

Recycling Collection & Processing

$6.9 M

$6.9 M

Food & Yard Collection & Processing

$ 0 (except pilot)

$6.4 M

Total Cost

$15. 8


  • Andrew Stevens
    published this page in Media 2022-11-10 08:20:14 -0600