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Toronto recycling: What does it take to get citizens to recycle properly? - Toronto Star

March 14, 2012
Josh Tapper
Toronto Star

Having trouble sorting your polystyrene from your polyethylene? Eager to toss your paper-based Tim Hortons coffee cups in the recycling bin? Forgot that plastic clamshell salad containers belong in the garbage, and not the blue bin?

Well, you’re not alone. And if the mountainous piles of waste residue inside recycling facilities are any indication, many city residents have a difficult time following blue bin basics or, rather, ignore recycling rules altogether.

Torontonians recycled nearly 150,000 tonnes of material in 2010 — a 96 per cent participation rate — according to city data. However, that enthusiastic recycling, unsurprisingly, leads to more misplaced items, said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who chairs the public works committee.

“While participation rates are high, we have to show greater discipline,” he said. “We don’t always do as good a job as we can do.”

Last week, the Star reported that 20 per cent of Toronto’s recycled refuse winds up in landfill, likely a joint reflection of poor citywide disposal habits and a recycling system that requires the average consumer to remember that not all plastics are created equal.

So what is a recycling-conscious citizen to do to ensure recyclables are blue bin friendly?

Toronto has a single-stream recycling system, meaning consumers are encouraged to mix in one big container everything from cardboard and telephone books to aluminum foil and laundry detergent jugs. Sounds simple enough but the lack of separation suggests to residents that their blue bins are catch-all receptacles, said Emily Alfred, a waste expert at the Toronto Environmental Alliance.

Consumers must take a more nuanced approach to recycling, according to Karyn Hogan, a Peel Region specialist for waste reduction and reuse.

For instance, while polyethylene plastic shopping bags are recyclable, a lone bag is not. It can clog processing machines and gets pulled by quality control sorters — tasked with snagging contaminants and separating papers and plastics at one of Toronto’s two recycling facilities — and winds up as garbage. The solution? If you have multiple bags, stuff them into one.

While bread and milk bags and plastic food wrap might seem blue bin safe, the city accepts none because there is no recycling market for that particular plastic type.

Food and liquid contamination also cause problems. Foam polystyrene packaging with leftover Chinese food, for example, is considered residue. Plastic soap dispensers with trace amounts of fluid are also plucked from the sorting belt.

Those paper Tim Hortons coffee cups? Non-recyclable colour dye sinks right into the fibre, leaving the cups ineligible for recycling, Hogan said.

Egregiously misplaced items, like propane cylinders, tools, scrap metal and coat hangers are easily extracted from the recycling pile.

“Just because it’s metal doesn’t mean it’s recyclable,” Hogan said.

Toronto provides an abundance of educational material, including the Waste Wizard, a search engine that instructs consumers where to dispose of particular garbage items. But “you can’t hit every message,” said Vince Sferrazza, acting general manager of the city’s solid waste management services.

Indeed, a plastic toy truck or plastic overwrap packaging (both non-recyclable) is not the same as a plastic peanut butter jar or yogurt container.

“I honestly think (residents) have the best intentions,” Sferrazza said. “They’re erring on the side of putting (refuse) in the blue bin.”

Six ways to go wrong when recycling

  1. Single polyethylene plastic shopping bags, while recyclable, can clog sorting machines. They are picked out as garbage. Toronto advises stuffing many bags into one, and tying it shut.
  2. Toronto has no current recycling market for plastic overwrap and plastic clamshell food containers, which differ from recycling-ready plastic items such as ice cream tubs or pop bottles. Clean polystyrene (Styrofoam) food containers are blue bin worthy.
  3. Propane cylinders, of whatever size, will explode if processed at a recycling plant. Cylinders should be taken to a household hazardous waste depot.
  4. Loose shredded paper cannot be sorted efficiently with other fibre products. Toronto asks recyclers to bag shredded paper before the blue bin.
  5. Liquid and food residue contaminates otherwise recyclable containers. While trace amounts of waste can be extracted during the sorting process, a half-full bottle of soap, for example, will be sent to garbage. Scrub down liquid residue from food and detergent containers.
  6. Glass from mirrors, windows, light bulbs and eye glasses have a different melting point than glass from food containers and jars, and cannot be processed by Toronto’s recycling facilities.

As originally published here:

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