A Big Waste of Waste

Comic Jim Gaffigan does a funny bit about preparing the recycling which he calls washing his garbage. His wife, Jeannie, is adamant that he follow the rules and he’s puzzled by the whole thing. I’m a lot like Jeannie Gaffigan.

If you’ve ever walked down a street and peeked into people’s blue boxes, you know how horrifying it is. Non-recyclables are stuffed into recyclables. Pizza boxes with half-eaten crusts are casually tossed in the box. It’s gross and it’s detrimental to the recycling process. Sometimes, you have to really wonder why we bother.

CBC did a wonderful job of explaining what happens when you don’t follow the guidelines of recycling. Every municipality has different rules about what it will and won’t accept. But in the big picture, how you prepare your recyclables is basically the same. Strip ’em and clean ’em.

From the CBC story:

“Food residue is the No. 1 culprit for contaminating viable plastic product for markets.”

CBC.ca News

Recyclables are resold but if an item in a batch of product still has food goo in it, the whole lot it contaminates ends up in a landfill. In other words, your unrinsed can is wasting my effort!

The top contaminants are found in tomato sauce cans, peanut butter jars, and bottles that held shampoo and conditioner. I find it easy to rinse them when I’m doing dishes. I wipe out the peanut butter jar and then put it through the next dishwasher run. It’s not a big deal but it makes a big difference.

Another issue is what’s called, wishful recycling. That’s where you throw in something hoping it’s recyclable, and it isn’t, thereby causing contamination. It’s not guesswork. Each municipality makes its info public.

A snip of a tweet from author Mark Manson that reads: We assume that we need to do something extraordinary for it to be important. But often the most important things in our lives are actually quite ordinary. And they're ordinary for a reason. Because we need to do them.

Reusing is far better than recycling. Keeping stuff out of the garbage by finding its new purpose is something Derek and I feel passionate about. It’s also why a company like OneTab is so great – they eliminate the need to buy more plastic bottles.

But beware the predators acting like solution solvers. Do you really need a “reusable lunch kit”? Or is it just another collection of stuff that speaks of more consumerism? Most of us already have the things we need in our kitchen.

I promise not to judge people by the mistakes they make in their blue boxes. But we’re putting a million or more disposable coffee cups in the landfills every day. It’s isn’t about being perfect. It’s about getting started and doing what you can.

11 thoughts on “A Big Waste of Waste”

  1. Thank you for the reminders, Lisa. Although everywhere we move there seem to be different rules, it’s always worth it to do our homework. Don’t give up the fight!

    1. That’s true! Here, we can’t even get one of those handy calendars that tells you what is and what isn’t recyclable. (Our utility management doesn’t allow online bill payments either, but that’s another story!) I care enough to do the research, but do most people? Who knows.

  2. I’ve been doing my very best to recycle since the late 80’s, reuse shopping bag; bundle and tie papers; plastics in the blue bin but since my elderly mother has lived with me my efforts are likely going to waste. I can give her a list of what goes into witch bin but she’ll ignore it and now that her memory is going I can’t keep up. We’ve seriously cut down on garbage that we could go six weeks without putting out the bin. Hopefully effort counts.

  3. Oh and by the way. Toronto has established a Blue bin police who will randomly check blue bin contents and if you’re in violation you may get a warning or fine, around $200 I believe.

    1. That sounds great in theory but Toronto is a big city and people do all sorts of nutty things and get away with it.

  4. My friend put her uncrushed cans in a plastic bag & noticed it was not picked up. The recycle truck was just a couple of houses down the street, so she picked it up to take to the worker, who politely told her that he is no longer allowed to take things in a plastic bag as it cannot be recycled & it will destroy the machines. Lately, I have heard ads on our local radio station, from Durham Region, telling you not to put recyclables in plastic bags. It’s a start!

  5. Ursula Schwarz

    You can buy recyclable bags that are the same but larger than the food waste bags, which can be used for the recycling items.

  6. Great article Lisa. Bobbie (my wife) and I are always looking at ways to repurpose any items that will go into recycle. We also make sure it is all put together so what does go out doesn’t blow away, though we couldn’t do anything the one day where most of the recycle containers on our street got blowing away and we have no idea where they went.

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