For many of us, the three Rs have been drilled in our heads since public school; reduce, reuse, recycle. Although reducing waste should come first in the priority list, recycling is the one that most people regularly practice.
As much as we love the Blue Box, and much to our surprise, recycling is one of the least environmentally friendly things we can do. But if we must do it, then we should at least do it correctly.
According to a 2018 Environmental Defence Canada report, Canadians only recycle 11 per cent of their plastic waste, letting the rest accumulate in landfills or the environment. With an estimated 10,000 metric tonnes of plastic ending up in the Great Lakes yearly, plastic pollution is killing wildlife, polluting our water system, and potentially creating health problems.
For many of us, recycling helps us feel better about the waste that we produce, but how many of us actually know what’s happening beyond the Blue Box?
Canada’s waste crisis
If you’re unfamiliar with our current garbage crisis, you might be interested to learn the following:
- Canada leads the developed world in per capita production of garbage, churning out as much as two kilograms per person daily, with more than 85 per cent of plastic waste produced ending up in landfills.1
- 25 per cent of the waste placed in recycling bins is rendered non-recyclable by contamination – either by food waste or other materials.2
- Recycling facilities only keep products that can turn a profit. The rest, they pay to discard.3
- Residential recycling comes with a significant environmental footprint, especially tied to transportation and carbon emissions.4
- According to the Ontario Waste Management Association, Ontario’s available landfill capacity is expected to be exhausted in 10 to 14 years.
- Emissions from Canadian landfills account for 20% of national methane emissions, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its global warming potential. 5
- Estimates suggest that Canadians use between 1.6 and 2 billion disposable coffee cups a year, which represents up to 35,000 tonnes of paper, made from more than 70,000 tonnes of raw wood, harvested from thousands of hectares of forest.6
- Canadian plastic waste is currently exported to countries like the USA, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Turkey, Pakistan, and Indonesia, with Malaysia being recently found to operate illegal burning sites and dumpsites.7
With figures like these, we have to understand that recycling is not enough to reduce our waste crisis, but when done correctly, diverting waste by recycling and composting can help reduce the impact of solid waste on the environment.
If you’re wondering how you can make a difference, you can start by reducing the use of disposable products, and sorting recyclables as per your local municipality’s requirements.
Help keep recyclables out of landfills
Proper recycling saves time at the recycling centre, avoids costly problems, and results in more revenue when we the city can sell ‘cleaner’ recyclables, which saves money for other community projects.
In the city of London, ON, it costs taxpayers $250,000 a year when Blue Boxes are not properly sorted.8 Here’s how you can help keep those costs low and keep your recycled products out of landfills:
- Find out what can and can’t be recycled by selecting your municipality on Stewardship Ontario’s website.
- Always rinse food containers thoroughly before placing them in the Blue Box.
- Remove and separate paper inserts from rigid plastic packaging.
- Separate the plastic lid from paper cups before placing both into the Blue Box (if acceptable in your municipality).
- Keep plastic bags out of the garbage by finding a drop off location where they can be recycled.
- Use 1 box for paper products and 1 box for containers.
For more information on acceptable Blue Box items or access to an online search tool, visit the City of London’s website.
1 Global News (2019). https://globalnews.ca/news/5340770/canada-garbage-shipping-philippines/
3 Global News (2019). https://globalnews.ca/news/5207256/economics-of-recycling-canada/
4 Science Daily (2019). https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190415144004.htm
5 Government of Canada (2017). https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/managing-reducing-waste/municipal-solid/greenhouse-gases.html
6 Canadian Geographic (2017). https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/canadas-dirty-secret