Nearly half of Montreal’s 19 boroughs aren’t recycling glass, despite telling residents on the city website they can put it in their blue bin or bag.
Recycling in eight boroughs is taken to the sorting centre in the city’s Saint-Michel neighbourhood, which is managed by the company Ricova. The 11 other boroughs’ recycling goes to a new $47-million facility in Lachine, operated by another company contracted by the city, Société VIA.
Both sorting centres have had trouble separating glass from other recyclables, as well as cleaning it — but the Saint-Michel centre is the latest to have come under scrutiny for not even trying.
The 20,000 tonnes of glass Ricova collects in Montreal ends up in landfills or is ground into powder and used as landfill cover as a replacement for sand. Landfill cover is spread over garbage at the end of each day to minimize odours, flyaways and prevent animals from getting into it.
“It’s basically glorified landfill,” said recycling advocate Karel Ménard of using glass powder as landfill cover.
Ménard said the Quebec government has allowed the practice as a stopgap until it can implement better glass recycling measures. The government never limited the thickness of that cover, meaning it may often be higher than needed, he added.
The boroughs where Ricova collects recycling are: Plateau-Mont-Royal, Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie, Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension, Montréal-Nord, Anjou, Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Saint-Léonard and Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles.
Pierre Beaudoin, a Plateau resident, has been meticulously cleaning and recycling glass bottles for years.
“I am surprised to learn that there are so many boroughs that have this bad practice of making us believe that we are recycling,” Beaudoin said. “It’s disconcerting.”
Ricova says it can’t make the investment into better equipment since its contract with the city ends in 2024. The city isn’t renewing that contract, and will be closing the Saint-Michel centre and replacing it with another one under construction in eastern Montreal.
Glass infinitely recyclable — but Quebec barely does it
When glass isn’t mixed with other materials, it is one of most recyclable materials there is. It can be melted and re-blown an infinite number of times, and requires much less energy than making glass from scratch.
But Quebec has struggled to recycle glass since it stopped requiring citizens to sort their own materials about 20 years ago, opting instead to hire companies to do the sorting after curbside pickup.
Since then, Ménard says none of the glass picked up on the side of Quebec roads can be turned back into glass bottles. Much of it ends up broken, contaminating other recyclables such as paper and cardboard. The stuff that can be salvaged is mostly turned into products used in construction, sandblasting or pool filters.
That’s the case for the roughly 12,000 tonnes of glass the Lachine sorting centre receives, which it pays to send to Groupe Bellemare, a company in Quebec’s Mauricie region.
“It’s all very opaque,” Ménard said, noting it’s not clear whether 100 per cent of the glass Bellemare buys can be transformed. He questions why the company requires payment to take the glass.
Bellemare told CBC News it does not have the capacity to take on the glass from the Saint-Michel sorting centre in addition to Lachine’s.
The City of Montreal acknowledges the systems in place aren’t ideal.
“The solution is modernization,” said Marie-Andrée Mauger, the borough mayor of Verdun and executive committee member responsible for the environment. “We need to remove the glass before it goes to the recycling bin.”
Montreal factory uses Ontario, Maritimes glass
In May, Quebec once again delayed a program to do just that. The glass and plastics deposit system it had promised for November 2023 is now slated for 2025.
In the meantime, there are about 100 deposit bins in Quebec that have been set up by an organization called Opération verre-vert, including four in Montreal. Their locations are available on the group’s website, which is in French.
The province invested $21 million in Montreal’s Owens-Illinois glass factory last year, in view of it taking on the glass from the upcoming deposit system.
According to Ménard, the factory is the largest of its kind that can recycle glass in eastern North America. Yet, it can barely use any glass recycled in Quebec, instead making bottles from glass coming from Ontario and the Maritimes.