The Blue Box program began in Kitchener, Ontario in 1983, and now millions of people all around the world are recycling. Recycling is the beautiful process of giving new life to a product that seems like it is old or used. It is the reinvestment back into our economy, our planet, and ultimately us, as a people.
Recycling may seem like too much work or a bit of a nuisance, however, without recycling, we would probably run out of places to put our waste since the average person creates 4 pounds of trash EVERY DAY. By recycling right, we can divert up to 75% of our waste. When we recycle, we support a closed-loop system, where products are transformed and recreated.
I was a Waste Auditor for a short time, and during this experience, I had to sort through waste according to a number of broad categories. Even I, a self-proclaimed Garbage Girl (Fact: My childhood dream was to be a waste collector), was amazed by the process, the number of categories, and the manual labor that is involved in sorting through your organics, recycling, and garbage once it leaves your curbside or apartment trash shoot.
A typical recycling system is built around the “three-chasing arrows” symbol. The broad recyclable categories are 1) Plastics, 2) Paper, 3) Glass and 4) Metal.
1) Plastics have 7 different categories and the number within the recycling symbol on your product gives insight into how difficult it is to break down and reuse the material – the plastic’s chemical determines this number.
The most commonly recycled products are:
- Bottles: Water and soft-drink bottles, and milk and juice jugs.
- Food containers and lids: Margarine, ice cream, sour cream, and clear fruit containers.
- Cleaning products: Laundry detergent bottles, window cleaner, shampoo bottles and mouthwash.
- Bags: Plastic, bread, produce and dry cleaning bags.
- Styrofoam: Even though it is notoriously difficult to recycle because of its low profitability (it is sold by the pound and styrofoam is very light-weight), examples include egg cartons, disposable cups and plates, and meat trays.
2) Paper is divided into three categories, 1. Cardboard, 2. Mixed paper, 3. Paper. They can only be recycled 5 to 7 times before the paper fibres become too short to be reprocessed into new products. Examples include magazines and newspapers, printer and lined paper, cardboard egg cartons, pizza boxes, cereal and tissue boxes, envelopes, and milk and juice cartons.
3) Glass is organized into three categories: 1. Mixed glass, 2. Clear glass, 3. Green glass. Examples include jam jars and olive oil bottles. Although, reusing your glass containers for spices, crafts, and food storage is highly encouraged.
4) Metal cans fall into two categories: 1. Steel and 2. Aluminum. Some examples are pop and tuna cans, and pie plates.
The 3 Golden Rules:
1* Always look for the “three-chasing arrows” symbol on your products. This is the best way to determine if it can be recyclable.
2* Paper coffee cups, believe it or not, are not recyclable, due to their plastic lining and the lack of infrastructure to support the specific processing requirements. So, toss your lid and sleeve in the recycling bin, while your paper cup goes in the trash.
3* Check the regulations of your local municipality to determine what can or cannot be recycled. The city of Toronto has a very handy tool called “Waste Wizard” where you can type in any item and the Wizard will tell you which bin to place the item in.
Recycling’s purpose is to make new products from used materials. The more recycled products are purchased, the larger the recycling industry becomes.
Recycling is the solution and we all have a responsibility to do our part.
By recycling right, you are living a life where you stop problems at the source and think twice before buying a “single-use” item, as well as properly disposing of items that can be used again. Being conscious and less wasteful takes planning and thoughtful choices. Prepare your reusable bags before you shop, think before you buy, and stay up to date with your municipality’s regulations.
The more you know, the better you will throw.
Our planet cannot keep reacting to our bad actions. Small changes have a big impact. We must do our part to keep the earth green, healthy and sustainable by living in a closed-loop, recycled system.
Remember the 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.