Northumberland shifts to dual stream recycling

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For this weeks blog, we’re trying something new! Watch the video or scroll down for the full text. If you like this format, send your feedback to communications@thecif.ca.

Contamination rates prompted Northumberland to act

During Waste Management Master Planning in 2014, Northumberland County identified a need to shift from single stream bagged recycling to dual stream boxes. Contamination rates were sitting at 23%, an uncomfortable position given the 3% contamination target being discussed in regard to transition to an individual producer responsibility model.

The campaign is still ongoing, but the overal goal of Northumberland’s dual stream collection and “Recycle Right” shift was to reduce contamination by 10% and realize the associated savings on processing costs. The launch was scheduled for September, but a few collection hiccups and blue/grey box delivery delays pushed the launch date to December 1, 2019.


Out of the Bag, Into the Box

Year over year comparisons are showing that while inbound MRF tonnage is pretty consistent (-1.34%), contamination has decreased by 8.64%.

The launch of this program saw a large spike in resident inquiries. The average number of calls and emails in the month preceding the launch was 93 per day, which rose to 156 per day in the month after the launch. Less than two months after the launch, however, inquiries have gone down to an average of 18 per day.

Reduced residuals have translated into an increase in marketed tonnes. In the first 3 months since the switch to dual stream, there were 2,813 marketed tonnes, compared to 2,628 tonnes from the same timeframe a year prior. That’s an increase of 185 tonnes. That said, the MRF has noticed that inbound paper is wetter, as previous fibres were protected from the elements in bags and materials are now exposed to weather. This however, has not impacted the value of the fibre materials.

“Even though the sample size is somewhat small, the results are promising”

– Adam McCue, Manager, Environmental and Technical Services

Learnings to date

Northumberland shares the following insights:

  • Big shifts require time and patience. Unfortunately, we can’t control all components of project delivery, so it is important to have financial and time buffers (within reason).
  • Big change requires resources. Listing out all operational details and establishing resources for possible delays (e.g., staff for box delivery and increased call/email volumes) will save time, money, and political unrest during program shifts.
  • Get it in writing. If contract extensions are being negotiated, be sure to get the commitment in writing.
  • Begin with the end in mind. As part of the monitoring and measuring, Northumberland is completing comprehensive curbside waste audits to track performance.

Related: Drummond North-Elmsley shifted to dual stream… one year later.

Last year, we shared results from Drummond North-Elmsley’s (DNE) shift from single stream to alternating dual stream recycling collection (blue box on week one, yellow box on week two) .

Now that a year has gone by, all the goals set out by DNE project were met, including:

  • A reduction in residues (from 15.56% to an average of 7.26%);
  • Maintaining participation and capture rates;
  • A decrease in processing cost per metric tonne (down 38% since 2016); and,
  • Increased sustainability of the program with more choice in available MRFs to process material in Eastern Ontario.

For more information about the DNE project, see Final Report “Yellow Box Purchase for Transition to Two Stream Collection Program in Drummond/North Elmsley Township” and contact Cathie Green for more information.


Monitoring and measuring are a key component to tracking project success. Both of these municipalities have participated in CIF/SO waste composition studies to manage the data. To participate in the 2020 Waste Composition Studies, submit an REOI application by June 26, 2020. Contact Laurie Westaway for more information.

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