Inspectors to help Torontonians figure out complicated recycling rules - Inside Toronto

Blue bins aren't as simple as many might think.

David Nickle
York Guardian
May 19, 2017 

Toronto Recycling

Plastic seems like a simple enough concept.

But if you’re deciding whether to throw it into the blue bin or toss it in the trash, the ubiquitous petroleum product is anything but.

For instance: dry cleaning bags are fine, as are sandwich bags and milk bags. Plastic bubble wrap on the other hand is out, as is laminated plastic film like chip bags. Biodegradable bags and plastic containers are out. As are coffee pods — even the ones that say they’re compostable.

And don’t even think about putting any plastic that’s black coloured. That stuff’s recycling poison.

Homeowners east of the Humber River – and soon those west of it – may find themselves reminded of the complexity of plastic, as well as the subtlety of cardboard and the hygienic requirements of jars and cans, as the city embarks on a pilot project this year to bring the city up to speed on its increasingly complicated responsibilities when it comes to solid waste diversion.

“What we’re doing in the next six months is we have staff going in front of the trucks, going bin by bin and inspecting what the contents are,” said Jim McKay, Toronto’s General Manager of Solid Waste Management. “If they see there are problem materials, they’ll leave a little door hanger. It’s really an educational tool that we’re trying to use.”

The project is part of a broad attempt by the city to reverse a multi-year trend that’s seeing more and more of the blue box recyclable material being contaminated by items that the city lacks the capacity to recycle.

Currently, Toronto’s contamination rate sits at 26 per cent of everything collected. That’s high for a couple of reasons, said McKay: first, because Toronto adopted a single-stream recycling system where paper is mingled with glass and plastic.

“Some of our neighbouring municipalities have a two-stream blue box system, and that’s a cleaner system than we’ve got … they’re at four to six per cent,” said McKay. “In a two-stream system, cans and bottles go in one bin and paper fibres in another and so immediately if you have any liquid or soil or food still left in a container it doesn’t get mixed in with paper fibre.”

In the single-stream system, Toronto can collect more recycling per day. But that leads to the second problem. Over the years, packaging companies have found more and more different kinds of materials to use. And it’s been impossible to keep up.

“It’s not just Toronto that’s dealing with this – it’s a problem we all have to face,” said Emily Alfred, a solid waste specialist with the Toronto Environmental Alliance. “Materials and packaging are getting more and more clever but we don’t have the technology to recycle all of that. The city is doing what it can. I do agree that there could be more education. Right now it’s education in posters and calendars that go out, but more regular communication is really effective.”

The pilot project will go on for six months, and eventually move west to Etobicoke as well.

Here are a selection of plastics that can go into Toronto's Blue Bin.

    • Milk bags (inner pouches and outer bag)
    • Select types of bread bags (non-foil)
    • Sandwich bags (i.e., re-sealable type bags)
    • Bulk food bags
    • Produce bags
    • Dry-cleaning bags
    • Newspaper / flyer bags
    • Garden soil, manure or compost bags
    • Road salt bags
    • Diaper and feminine hygiene outer bags
    • Frozen fruit bags (not standup pouch type)
    • Frozen vegetable bags (not standup pouch type)
    • Transparent recycling bags
    • Overwrap from toilet paper, napkins, paper towels, water and soft drink packaging