What’s the City doing to solve Yellowknife’s recycling problem?

Recycling containers at Yellowknife's dump in March 2019
Recycling containers at Yellowknife's dump in March 2019. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

The City of Yellowknife’s baling facility is up and running again, meaning recycling is no longer being deposited directly into the landfill with garbage.

But the end to that two-week problem doesn’t mean Yellowknife’s broader recycling issues are over.

China is still severely restricting the recycling it processes from other countries, meaning at least some recycling in Yellowknife is still ending up in the landfill – as it has for at least a year.

Though that recycling is stored away from regular garbage, items like tin and glass cannot be recycled once placed there.



The City now says it is examining options for “recycling holistically” to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of overall waste.

City Hall urged people to continue to sort their waste – adding that, if residents begin mixing their recycling with trash, all hope of finding a solution is gone.

The City says it is trying to recycle where possible, even though the southern market makes it practically impossible to export any recyclables for the time being.

Currently, organics recycling “continues to successfully divert waste volumes from the landfill and produces compost,” the City said, while paper and cardboard “are used as carbon additives to the composting program as a vital ingredient.”



Meanwhile, staff are working with Ecology North and Kavanaugh Waste Management Services to find the best solution “given the current global economy.”

Ecology North told Cabin Radio “local solutions” need to be found to the growing recycling backlog. “Keeping it local reduces carbon emissions and costs,” said group representative Dawn Tremblay.

Tremblay told residents that if they want to help, they need to reduce the amount of packaging and waste they use in the first place, and reuse items where possible.

Burning waste for heat

In April 2018, the City received a strategic waste management plan developed by an independent consultant.

That 397-page report looks at the possibility of a waste-to-energy facility in Yellowknife.

Most of that analysis focused on incinerating regular garbage – such as the 15,000 tonnes and growing of construction and demolition waste generated annually, of which around 60 percent could be burned.

But the study also looked at biomass and paper products, saying technology is available to burn paper products if need be.

While the consultant was quick to add recycling and composting are “environmentally superior to energy recovery,” using some recyclables to power a waste-to-energy plant is suggested as an option for a reliable, local source of heat or electricity.



Overall, the consultant concluded, setting up a waste-to-energy plant could reduce the amount of waste (of all kinds) heading to Yellowknife’s landfill by about 75 percent in terms of weight, and 90 percent in terms of volume. The cost, the study predicted, “could be in the same range as current landfill costs.”

That plan, which the City is not necessarily committed to following, is not the only option available.

Mayor Rebecca Alty told Cabin Radio last week the City is examining the possibility of turning paper and cardboard into pellets for boilers. Some glass is being reused locally as construction fill.

However, coming up with an alternative for plastics – if they won’t be accepted anywhere else – remains difficult.

On that, all the plan had to say was: “As recycling markets are volatile and depressed at the moment, securing stable market agreements should be the priority.”