The Recycling Dilemma

A green circle with a white doodle of a man putting an item into a bin

I’ll admit it. I’m one of those people who judges a blue box if I walk past and notice non-recyclables in it. I study recycling rules like I’m cramming for the finals. And it looks like some of my neighbours are just winging it and hoping to pass. But it’s really not all their fault.

The guidelines are all over the place and they’re different for each municipality. They contradict each other and some people just don’t care enough to bother learning what goes in and what stays out. They’ve seen the odd news item about tons of recycling that has headed straight to the landfill and figure, what’s the point? In fact, a guy who used to transport recyclables to a Toronto depot shared some details with me recently.

Ever since China stopped buying plastic a few years ago, recycling is largely a farce. The place I hauled to in Toronto, which had just had a $45-million facelift, was pumping out straight garbage to China. Hundreds of containers a week of just plastic mixed with sludge and garbage. They kept doing it until China said “f___ off” and now there’s no place for it to go.

Anonymous Driver

Okay, I get that. But it’s one plant. Maybe more. Have you stayed in a hotel or visited a convenience store lately? Garbage piles up like mad. If your room has a blue box it’s extremely progressive. That still doesn’t change my resolve.

If you start thinking about all the ways the process doesn’t work, it can be disillusioning. But regardless of what anyone else does, I believe in trying to do better in one’s little corner of the planet. Whatever that means to you. I believe that most recycling systems are operating as described. I’m sticking with the program.

Consistency Would Help

I had an ongoing semi-serious argument with a former colleague about Styrofoam containers years ago. She insisted that the City of London recycled them. I knew they didn’t. However, they were accepted for recycling in her home municipality. This fact annoyed us both. Her city took containers with little triangled numbers up to 7 while at the time, London only took 1-5.

Besides what goes into the bins, the stuff also needs separating. But people throw it all together in one big clump. Junk mail alongside tin cans! Cardboard pieces running wild and free! It’s madness. These things get tucked in along with bubble wrap (not recyclable), wrapping paper (not recyclable) and loads of other stuff that doesn’t belong. In fact, I read a terrific piece about how “wishful recycling” is contaminating otherwise recyclable materials. Great – yet another way a great idea is getting wrecked!

Domino’s Defends Its Boxes

At the bottom of that Wishful Recycling study its noted that “pizza boxes aren’t recyclable”. Domino’s says that’s incorrect. In fact, the pizza giant commissioned its own new study released last week that found a pizza box soaked in grease accounting for up to 20% of its weight, didn’t negatively affect the rest of the recycling. The current advice is to put the greasy part of the box in a composter or Green Bin and recycle the dry cardboard. London, for example, still doesn’t have a Green Bin program. We don’t have one here, either. So we either get our own composter or it all goes into the trash. Leaves. Food scraps. You name it. It’s shameful.

I’ve come to accept that many people just don’t care, for whatever reason. But that doesn’t mean I have to join them and give up. It makes me feel that I’m doing something positive when I recycle. And isn’t that a bit of a win in itself? I can’t possibly control what happens to the stuff once it’s dumped in the truck. I do my part and I can only hope others are doing theirs down the line.

We trust all sorts of things we can’t control. That the ingredients on the outside of a container really represent what’s inside, for example. So, if I want to rinse a piece of plastic and believe that it’s going to end up as another bottle, or a T-shirt, or something else, that’s my right. Just like it’s my right to peer into a messed up blue box and wonder whether its owner is able to read.

6 thoughts on “The Recycling Dilemma”

  1. I agree! Twenty years ago in Toronto I was putting dog poop into the green bin. (Bagged, of course!) London’s council is more concerned with legacy programs, IMHO. Green Bins aren’t sexy enough. I wonder if we’ll ever get one out here in Port Stanley.

  2. Ah, things were simpler in the 1970s. You didn’t have to think about these things. There was only one category of stuff: garbage!

    On a more hopeful note: My workplace took delivery in the last couple weeks of our first laptop computer made from . . . ocean plastics. How cool is that?

    1. That’s wonderful! I follow an organization called The Plastic Bank and that’s what they’re all about. Retrieving ocean plastics and reusing them. That’s so cool.

  3. I thoroughly get where you are coming from. I recycle (always have) religiously. Belmont HAD a green bin program, along with its blue box, in the 80’s/early 90’s, then along came amalgamation and POOF! Gone. I had a family of 7, 1 in diapers (cloth for the most part) and a small bag of garbage to go out each week before the change.

    1. That’s just terrible. They had it and then they let it go. Too many people live on (and run) parts of the planet like they’re careless renters.

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