This week, I had one of the most enlightening experiences on my Zero Waste journey that I’ve had yet! I got to take a tour of one of Montreal’s recycling plants. I know it’s not a glamorous experience, but I really don’t care! I was excited for weeks before the event. About a month ago, I contacted the city to request a tour. At the time, I didn’t even know there would be one available. It was a just a pipe dream. My main purpose for this request was to expand my knowledge of the recycling process.
Alas, my dream came true and my mom and I were enrolled to go for the event (you read that right, my mom came with me!). The day of, the event started with about half an hour of facts about the landfill right beside us and continued with a small tour and another slide show inside the plant. My group was full of eager beavers, and we asked too many questions, so we ran out of time before doing the in depth tour. But the way everything was set up was fantastic! They had this room full of displays showing us what kind of material is used to make what. For example, tin cans go into making things like: metal sinks and other industrial material. I learned so much in my two hours, that I couldn’t possibly share it all… but I’m still going to give it a shot.
- The landfill in St-Michel is on route to become a massive park! More than 25 hectors in fact.
- The park in question will need a staff to supervise it. Unlike a regular park, it will be built on top of the old landfill, therefore it will need attending to, to keep it level, and keep it completely safe.
- The garbage that is left underneath the park will either break down over the next 10,000+ years or fossilize. Our guide joked about archaeologists’ digging up old landfills and examining our ways of life, like what we do now with dinosaurs.
- Currently on the land, there is a recycling plant, a section for bio energy, leftover bits of the landfill (until it becomes fully converted) and even an eco center. I’m only listing the green advancements, there’s also plenty for culture and arts! It’s quite a wonderful place.
- ‘Leachate’ or simply garbage juice for those of us who have never heard of it, is a big issue that still needs to be addressed in the area. It seeps into the ground and creates these underground pools that, if left untreated, can have a huge negative effect on our water. They collect this garbage juice in pipes and add a chemical, which makes a less dangerous liquid. It is then treated so it can be reintroduced to our water system.
- Methane from the landfill is also collected as ‘Biogaz’. It is corralled by pipes and turned into energy by burning. This process does create CO2 but it’s a less dangerous greenhouse gas than methane.
- Composting is HIGHLY recommended to avoid more issues in current landfills. When compostable material is added to the landfills, it creates more methane and makes the ‘Leachate’ more acidic, and will need more treating. Not to mention it will continuously attract more vermin to the already large amount that are calling the landfill home.
- The recycling center processes 200,000 tons of material annually and only 1% of that amount is sent to trash because it is non-recyclable material.
- The recycling process within that plant is as follows:
- First, arrives in the trucks at the weight stations to record the weight of the recycling.
- It is then brought to the conveyors where they manually sort what they can. You read that right; humans first sort it.
- This process ensures that there are no dangerous or harmful materials that will continue on.
- The electronics that reach the plant are sent over to the eco center, and they ask that people bring electronics on their own.
- The material then continues and is sorted, again manually, but also from the machinery to their proper destinations.
- They are corralled, shaped squished into large bails of the recyclable material and sold off to companies who will then repurpose it.
- Most of the companies buying are form Quebec, but there are still overseas shipments happening.
- Biodegradable plastic means nothing to this plant. They send it to the trash regardless since it is still an unrecyclable material made from petrol. Sure, it will decompose faster than non-biodegradable plastics, but you’re better off using compostable material. Our guide suggests avoiding it all together.
- #6 plastic IS NOT RECYCLABLE nor are waxy bags (chips and cereal packages), saran wrap, polystyrene and plastic cutlery.
- A lot of companies won’t put the number of plastic on their product to keep the truth from its consumer. Simple things like individual yogurt tubs (the single serving size) are not recyclable and go straight to the landfill and we as consumers have no idea.
- The plant does not wash any of the material that enters. If the buyers want it washed, they will do it themselves.
- Also, for things like plastic water bottles or soda bottles, they ask for them to come in, rinsed and open. Not for the recycling process, but as a gesture towards the employees. Imagine sorting the material and have everything drip on you and it’s icky. Or if a truck within the shop happens to run over the bottle, it can become hazardous. Imagine a bottle cap flying towards you at a ridiculous speed. Yeah, I’ll just leave them uncapped from now on (when I actually have any)
- Also, for things like peanut butter, you don’t have to fully wash the containers, just a quick rinse will do. Remove any large chucks and it’s all set.
My favourite part of everything that I experienced was how our tour guide emphasized the need to reduce. At the end of the slide show and question period, he said numerous times how we, as a society, need to watch our consumerism, and how it’s our biggest issue. Make more environmentally friendly choices from fashion to food. Learn to refuse what you don’t actually need and try your best to reduce what you do.
As a final note, the public is allowed to organize outings to visit. The group sizes need to be more than 10, but we are definitely allowed if we want! Cool eh! Check it out at:
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Note: Our group was asked not to take any pictures during the event. So I have no originals to add to this blog. L