The City of Lethbridge, Alberta recently began a municipal curbside recycling program. Unlike many North American cities that were left in a bind after China refused their recyclables, Lethbridge has made sure that it has secure contracts with only Canadian and U.S. recyclers.

Lethbridge is located in southern Alberta and has a population of approximately 100,000. Lethbridge is southern Alberta’s commercial, distribution, financial and industrial centre,

The City wants to make the curbside recycling program a success. As such, it is focusing on quality control by providing on-going education and feedback to residents as to what is acceptable in the blue box. By limiting what can be put in the blue box, the City believes it will prevent the contamination and quality issues other municipalities are struggling with.

In Phase I of the curbside recycling program, the contamination rate in the blue box was less than 14%.  For city-wide roll out, the City will continue to focus on educating residents to only put clean, accepted material in their blue cart to maintain a low contamination rate.

As part of its public education campaign, the City created an on-line sorting game. Similar to popular video games, there are levels of acheivement

In an interview with Global News, Joel Sanchez, manager of waste and recycling with the City of Lethbridge said the start-up of the curbside recycling program has prompted companies to consider consider building recycling facilities in Alberta.

In conjunction with the curb-side recycling program, the City has built a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). The MRF will process, sort and bale the collected recyclables in preparation for marketing the materials. The MRF will be operated with both hand sorting and machinery sorting equipment.

The MRF will be capable of processing 8 tonnes of recyclable material per hour. It is owned by the City of Lethbridge and operated by a private contractor.

MRF under construction in 2018 (source: City of Lethbridge website)

There are also local companies that are involved in the recycling program. There is a local broker that will take care of metals collected in the blue bins. Also, there is an Alberta processor will handle all plastics.

Currently cardboard represents over 55% of the materials recycled, markets for cardboard are in North America, and current prices are favorable to encourage the recycling of this material.

Plastics represent 10-15% of the materials and currently are being recycled in local markets in Alberta. The City has used some of the recycled plastic in plastic lumber materials in parking lots and parks across the city. Research and new opportunities are currently being explored in North America to increase the recycling opportunities for plastics.

The City plans to use glass recovered at the recycling stations for different city projects, including as a base for City pathways.

Prior to the start-up of the curbside recycling program, Lethbridge residents could drop of recyclables at one of three recycling depots.

A March 2019 poll of Lethbridge residents found that almost 70 percent supported the curbside recycling program. The survey was conducted by the Citizens Society Research Lab.