By Oliver Berger –
“I recycle everything.”
Honestly, when I hear this statement I cringe. I am sure my fellow waste educators would also agree.
Most people tell me these words with optimistic pride, boasting how little garbage they create, reassuring me that their recycling bag is always full to the brim, sometimes even overflowing. That’s fantastic, you might think … or is it?
Because of the experience I have sifting through curbside recycling bins, my mind immediately wanders into visualizing what might be inside their bins. Did they rinse out their peanut butter jar? Did they throw batteries, glass, or Styrofoam in there as well? Is there a garden hose inside the bin, intertwining items together like a tree root? I hope they did not put wood waste or compost in there, too! Is it literally everything and the kitchen sink?
The notion that anything you throw into your curbside recycling will eventually work its way through the proper avenues to get recycled accordingly is a facade.
Often when items are too tightly packed together or just down-right disgusting, they will end up in the garbage. For instance, if a jug full of used engine oil ends up spilling while a pile of recyclables gets bailed together, that entire bail will be destined for the landfill.
Curbside recycling programs only collect specific items to be recycled. Usually these items are paper, cardboard, tins cans, and hard plastic containers.
Items like glass, Styrofoam, any plastic films, batteries, electronics, scrap metals, light bulbs, pesticides, paint, antifreeze, engine oil, oil containers, wood waste, textiles, and compost need to be brought to the appropriate drop-off locations to be dealt with accordingly.
There is alot of information to absorb to do all this correctly, especially when you have to drive all over town to make it happen. Do not get me wrong: I would love to see a system in place where you could bring all your items to one location and it would all get sorted properly. However, this is not currently the case.
A materials recovery facility (MRF) is where all your curbside and mixed recycling items end up for sorting. Contamination is a serious issue and costs these facilities time (aka money) to weed out unrecyclable items. Every couple of hours, the entire sorting system shuts down completely to untangle all the plastic film caught within the machinery. Rope and strapping are also an issue here.
Considering there is not a lot of profit margin in the recycling business, it is important to make sure we do our part accurately. Otherwise, we might lose recycling programs all together.
There is also that sense of “doing our part for the environment” when we put our leftovers into the blue recycling bin instead of the black landfill bin. We have to remember creating more “stuff” to throw away is not the answer. As far as I am concerned, recycling should be one of the last options for our waste.
I would rather hear stories of people reusing their yogurt container or glass jars to store dry goods. I really enjoy repurposed art made out of scrap metal like old forks or cheese graters. The best is seeing someone wearing their favourite t-shirt or jacket to the bitter, hole-ridden, barely-hanging-on end.
Remember not everything is recyclable. Some types of packaging and especially non-packaging items are just plain old garbage. Refuse is still my favourite “R”. If you are unsure of what is recyclable, find out first. Contact your local regional district for the latest information. Download Recyclepedia, an APP created by the Recycling Council of British Columbia, or better yet call them at 1-800-667-4321 and tell them I said hello.
It’s not somebody else’s job to deal with the leftovers you created … it’s yours.
Take responsibility for your waste.
Oliver has a 35-year degree in life, starting out in the Spokin Lake area, spending adolescence in Williams Lake, and then venturing throughout the world on a quest of always learning new things. His priorities include dedication to and education about waste management.