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Montreal recycling centre says it's complying with standards following controversies

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The Saint-Michel recycling centre in Montreal, which has been at the centre of various disputes and controversies in past years, claims to have made the necessary investments to meet industry standards.

Ricova, which operates the Saint-Michel sorting centre -- one of the largest in Quebec -- claims that the acquisitiomination of six optical sorters has allowed it to reduce the contan rate of paper and plastic bales "significantly," from 35 per cent to 2 per cent.

A paper bale becomes contaminated when materials such as metal or plastic bags are found in it, making it difficult to recycle the contents.

Ricova sells the residual materials that it sorts both in Quebec and abroad. But if the material is not properly sorted and the bales are contaminated, it becomes difficult to recycle cardboard boxes, yogurt cups or juice bottles.

"In August of 2020, when we resumed operations here at the Saint-Michel sorting center, there were more than 1,000 bales piled up outside, because they were too contaminated and there was no market for them," said Nicolas Fortier-Labonté, Ricova's director of sorting centers, on Thursday.

But with the modernization of its equipment, Ricova will be able to recycle more of the material collected.

"It's important to do it because every gesture counts," said Laurence Tôth, Ricova's director of communications, during a press briefing at the sorting center.

WHERE DO THE MATERIALS GO?

A February 2022 report from Radio-Canada's Enquête program claimed the Saint-Michel sorting centre was sending containers of recycled paper bales contaminated with plastic to India via an intermediary in Italy.

Rather than being recycled, this waste material ended up becoming fuel in polluting factories such as cement plants, according to the report entitled "The dirty secrets of recycling."

When asked if modernizing the sorting center will prevent such a situation from happening again, Laurence Tôth said "Ricova does not sell to cement companies"; however, the company "has neither the resources nor the control nor the power to control what our buyers do with the recyclable materials."

This is not the only controversy that has rocked the Saint-Michel sorting centre in recent months.

In February 2022, the city's executive council placed Ricova and its directors "on the city's blacklist" following recommendations from the inspector general's office.

The office's investigation alleged that "the head of Services Ricova and the sister entities are committing a fraudulent manoeuvre by systematically deducting the amount of $20 per ton upstream from the sales price declared by Services Ricova for the purpose of sharing revenues or losses from the sales, thereby depriving the City of Montreal of considerable sums."

Ricova disputes the findings of the investigation. The company has threatened the City of Montreal with legal action if it attempts to terminate its municipal contracts.

Ricova's contract as operator of the Saint-Michel sorting centre will end in 2024.

Éco Entreprises Québec (ÉEQ), charged by the Quebec government with modernizing curbside recycling, recently issued a call for tenders to construct and operate a new sorting facility serving the island's east end.

Could equipment upgrades and reducing paper and plastic bale contamination allow Ricova to win the tender?

"It's up to Éco Entreprises Québec to determine whether or not, as of Sept. 30, 2024, we will be called upon to continue our contract. But until then, we will collaborate with the City of Montreal and Éco Entreprises Québec to continue sorting materials as we have always done," answered Tôth.

Ricova operates four centres in Quebec that specialize in the sorting and recovery of recyclable materials.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Feb. 2, 2023.

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