What’s in your blue recycling bin?

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Sabrina Almeida

Do you give much thought to what you put in your recycling bin?

If not, chances are plenty of wrong items will end up in your blue cart. What’s troubling is that you’re not the only one or one of the few doing this… and that’s costing the recycling program millions of dollars.

This wasn’t part of the reduce, reuse and recycle plan!

Last June, the city of Toronto launched a six-month pilot project to track what was going into recycling bins. Aimed at reducing the amount of garbage that is being packed along with recyclables, media reports suggest that tickets (fines) could soon be on their way.

An absence of penalties, which typically force people to do the right thing, is no reason to continue being careless. Whether it is by way of increased property taxes or individual fines, we will be paying for it one way or another.

There’s no reason to be happy if you live outside Toronto like in Peel, Halton, Durham or York either. It’s a matter of time before similar initiatives are implemented in these regions. I doubt that residents here are more mindful of what goes in their blue boxes. In my house, for example, I am constantly picking wrong items out of the recycling box and adding more to it from the garbage container. Frequent reminders (and lectures) have had little impact.

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Is recycling really that complicated? I don’t think it is! One must just commit to it. And having to pay money for one’s transgressions can be a great incentive.

Peel region, where I live, has a long list of items that can be recycled? Ranging from plastic bottles to egg cartons, glass containers, empty paint cans and pizza boxes—thankfully there’s a ton of stuff that need not go to the landfill. When in doubt, I refer to the website page on how to sort your waste. To help the rest of my careless family members I even put the list up on the refrigerator. But it appears that it is too much effort for anyone to refer to it. So, it’s left to me to sort it all out before it goes out on the curb.

Most people I know aren’t that involved. In fact, some families just put everything in garbage. Apartment buildings and condo complexes (where a majority of us immigrants begin life in Canada) must share some responsibility for their lack of civic sense. The infrastructure in multi-dwelling units like these discourages recycling. The small recycling bins standing demurely beside the huge garbage containers in HOAs seem like an afterthought and do not promote recycling. Neither do the even tinier boxes in the room housing the garbage chute. Even a staunch recycler like me feels guilty about loading up the tiny blue box when I visit my son’s apartment in Ottawa. Naturally, he’s less inclined to sort out waste when he comes home.

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This bad habit can be difficult to break. Many families take years to get with the program. Others are simply too lazy or averse to going through garbage.
There is an easier way to identify what goes in your blue bin and that does not involve accessing the city’s website or your memory. Just look for the little recycling symbol on packaging. Of course, if your eyesight is failing like mine is, you might have to make the effort to put on your glasses!!!

However even experienced recyclers like me can make mistakes. Not all paper, plastic, glass and metal containers are created equal. A combination of materials used in certain packaging, such as a coated coffee cup or rice bag, often has me thinking hard about whether it belongs in the recycling or garbage bin. Or, even paper and plastic packaging coated with foil… like the mithai box.
China’s crack down on foreign waste in an attempt to clean up it’s act has added to our recycling woes. It has closed its doors to more than 20 types of materials like PET containers which means Canada now must find a new home for this waste. According to a media report, acceptable contamination levels (such as newspapers smeared with ketchup and plastics mixed with broken glass) have also been greatly reduced.

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The solution lies in altering our lifestyles. Home-cooked meals are healthier for you, your pocket as well as the environment. Research shows that soda cans, juice packs, disposable water bottles, take-out food containers, ready-to-eat meals and frozen food packaging contribute to a significant amount of recycling. This is my personal experience as well. My large blue cart barely accommodates two weeks of recycling items. Without the above-mentioned things, even a small one would be half empty.

How do we solve this problem? By moving away from a disposable culture, perhaps! Like bringing your own travel cup or mug to Tim Horton’s, taking a packed lunch to work and drinking tap (or filtered) water rather than the bottled variety, for starters. And opting for durable items rather than disposable ones.

It’s time to think ‘reuse’ rather than ‘recycle’!

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