Waste - Frequently Asked Questions

What is recyclable? Where should I put my recyclables and waste?

Many materials are "recyclable" but that doesn’t always mean that they can be recycled in Toronto. Knowing what to put in the Blue Box depends on where you live.  

All low-rise residential buildings in Toronto have waste and recycling collection managed by the City (whether public or private workers do the collection). The City distributes a calendar with information every year, but you can also find out here:

Commercial buildings or high-rise residential buildings may be served by the City collectors, or by a private company - these companies don’t all recycle the same things. 

  • If you have City service, visit the City website and the links above.
  • If you don’t have City service, contact your landlord or property manager to find out what is recyclable in your building and how to set out materials properly. 

Why can't I put some materials in the Blue Box?

The recycling symbol (arrows in a triangle) on a product does not necessarily mean that it is recyclable in your home or office recycling bin. The international number and letter code in the triangle gives some information about the type of plastic, but doesn't relate to what is accepted by local cities or waste collection companies.

This unfortunately leaves a confusing situation for the average person on what and how to recycle packaging and products. It also highlights the need for the producers and retailers to consider and be involved in the full life cycle and disposal needs of the products and packaging they sell.

What we can recycle depends on a number of things: equipment and machinery required to sort recyclables, the market to sell the materials to, materials which are too costly to separate into reusable parts, and others that are not good candidates for recycling into a new product.  

You can find some explanations on the City website

As markets for recycled materials emerge, and as technology advances, more things become recyclable in Ontario and the City of Toronto regularly adds new things to the list of materials `collected in our Blue Box.

Do the things I put in my recycling, organics or yard waste bins actually get recycled?

Yes. Materials put into your recycling, organics or yard waste bins do go to the right place.

A very small percentage of collected recycling, organics and yard waste is sent to landfill. This happens when items are placed in the wrong bin (e.g. non-recyclable plastics put in the Blue Box), material is contaminated, or because it is "residual" waste (e.g. the plastic bags that organics are collected in).  

However, the vast majority of your waste is taken where it is supposed to go.

Monitoring, supervision and detailed reports about our waste collectors to our elected officials will help ensure that our waste services are run smoothly, efficiently and that mistakes aren’t made.

What about incineration or generating "energy-from-waste" by burning garbage?

Incinerating garbage, "thermal treatment", and "energy-from-waste" (or burning garbage to make energy), is bad for the environment and our health, no matter what you call it.

Burning waste creates pollution. The combustion process releases toxins in the solid waste, and actually creates new toxins. "Modern"incinerators may have fewer emissions than older incinerators, but they still create and release toxic pollution.

Burning waste wastes resources. Once waste has been burnt, there is no future opportunity to recover recyclable or reusable materials. New recycling techniques are emerging all the time. Only a few years ago it was considered too expensive to recycle styrofoam and plastic bags, now these are accepted in Toronto's Blue Boxes. 

Burning removes the incentive to reduce and recycle. Incinerators are costly to build, and operators need guarantees about the volume of waste they’ll get to cover their costs. This creates a dis-incentive to reduce waste and to recycle new materials, because there is always a need to find more waste to "feed" the incinerator.

Finally, energy-from-waste is a dirty, non-renewable and toxic energy source. We have the technology to reduce our energy use and to choose clean and green energy sources like solar, wind and hydro.

Learn more about incineration and energy from waste. 

What’s wrong with private collection? What’s at risk?

Waste collection is an essential environmental service that every resident interacts with daily. How we handle our waste, how much we divert and where our waste goes is important to ensuring that Toronto is a green city.

It is clear that strict monitoring of contracted work is necessary to ensure that recyclables or organics don't get taken to landfills by private collectors (as they did in Toronto in 2009, and York Region in 2010-11).

See our report Look Before You Leap: An Environmental Perspective on Privatizing Waste Collection in Toronto for more information.