Here is a full breakdown of the Q&A’s concerning my question to Mr. A Khan (General manager, Infrastructure & Operational Services)
Q #1: Can you break down the additional ‘sorting’ issues involved with food Styrofoam containers? It seems to me that we are talking about only one additional handing of this material to sort the trays from the packing to sort white packaging Styrofoam vs. food Styrofoam containers initially.
A: Styrofoam recycling is challenging as there can be no contamination even a dye or color and this is standard everywhere based on the current technology available. The food containers, we receive at ECO-Center, are mostly contaminated with food residual, tape, plastic wrap, absorbent pads, etc. The staff has to manually remove all this contamination before processing the material with the EPS densifier. The Packaging Styrofoam is free of contamination as it doesn’t get in contact with other contaminant materials and can be directly processed. Therefore, handling hundreds of food Styrofoam containers every day has an increased risk for staff to get into contact with surfaces and objects potentially contaminated with Covid-19. Our current health and safety policies are designed to minimize touch surfaces as much as possible.
Q #2: Has the Town considered simply storing all the Styrofoam in an untouched bin and letting that bin sit for 72 hrs which is the current evidence suggesting the maximum time the Corona Virus can stay infectious on a surface?
A: Eco Centre has minimal space available for storage, and it is currently used for decontamination of other materials for 72 hours (e.g. packaging Styrofoam, branches) before processing them.
Q#4: Was there a ‘cost component’ involved in this decision, if so how much ‘savings’/’cost efficiencies’ are we talking about?
A: There were no cost components involved in the decision, but it was driven by safety concerns and the capacity to maintain the Eco Centre open.
Q #5: What has been the staffing reduction since Covid? How many full time and/or part time positions have been affected by Covid?
What has happened to these positions i.e. lay off/termination etc?
A: There has been no staffing reduction since March 2020.
Q#6: Was council involved in this decision and if yes, who specifically and in what role?
A: Council was not involved in this specific decision. The administration made the operational decision with the support of the Emergency Coordination Center and Health & Safety office (including the adoption of health and safety measures).
Q#7: With the vaccination roll out now well under way, can you advise me when the decision to stop accepting food Styrofoam containers will be re-visited, who will be involved in re-visiting this decision, will there be a request for public input and how will the public know about this decision?
A: The Town continuously reviews H&S procedures based on newly available information and guidelines and evaluates the opportunity to safely resume programs at the Eco Centre. At this time, a decision about resuming the food Styrofoam containers program has not been taken yet.
The Eco Centre represents a very important facility for the community. Town’s priority is to adopt measures that ensure continued uninterrupted services at the Eco Centre and provide the most used and essential programs (based on hazardous material assessment and/or available options for disposing of items not accepted at the Eco Centre). Based on the data collected so far, we only collected 1 MT of Food Styrofoam containers within the last 5 years and is categorised (in comparison) as a very low volume product but require increased efforts for processing during current times. Currently, food Styrofoam containers can be disposed of in the black bin with no additional costs or residents’ efforts.
Q#8: Can you outline what the “enhanced and more complex procedures” that have been implemented at the Eco Centre to safely resume most of the program as described below?
A: The enhanced procedures that were implemented at the Eco Centre to reduce the risk for Covid-19 spread include but not limited to
- Monitoring the number of users at the facility at one time and performing traffic control when needed;
- Touchless procedures for taking payments;
- Limitation and stringent cleaning procedures on the use of equipment and machinery;
- Limitation and stringent cleaning procedures on the use of shared spaces and technology;
- Use of respirators, goggles and stringent cleaning procedures while carrying out several operations that can expose staff to Covid-19 (e.g. material bailing);
- Moving some programs outdoor that previously ran indoor (e.g. Styrofoam packaging drop off);
- Daily cleaning of coveralls;
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces regularly;
Q#9: Can you provide a list of the reference epidemiological data used in your decision and/or reference the source of empirical evidence you used to make your decision regarding the discontinuance of the food Styrofoam containers?
A: The Town of Cochrane follows guidelines and information provided by AHS when assessing programs and procedures.
We hope that we were able to address your concerns but please feel free to reach out if you have additional questions. We appreciate your interest and support in our recycling programs and value your feedback.
Additional information found in my March 19, 2021 interview included:
-Storage capacity in the facility is already limited and does not allow for further outside storage.
-Business opportunities for recycled meat/food containers is currently limited.
-Cochrane Facility programs will soon outstrip the current facility space/capacity.
-There is very limited information on what would be the specific issues related to safety. The town is following AHS guild lines which lack specific details about recycling safety.
-Mr. Khan stated, “In August 2020, we assessed the opportunities and risks of resuming the Styrofoam programs at the Eco Centre, and it was decided to resume the white packaging Styrofoam program only as it poses a lower risk compared to the food Styrofoam containers program.” I was still left not understanding the differences between sterilization of the two types of styrophome. It appears this decision was based in part with the differences in value between the two i.e., meat/food containers are an inferior product with increased processing steps and fewer post recycling opportunities.
-I was advised that currently, there is NO central regulatory process for the disposal of the recycled ‘bricks’ that result from the recycling of Styrophome. A person/company could literally pick up recycled products and bury them. The government appears to be working on addressing this issue.