How Well Are You Actually Recycling?

What Actually Goes In Your Blue Bins?When Toronto switched over, a few years back, to pay-by-size garbage cans, many green families took the hint and went small. Like really small.  In our household of five, it’s a kind of game we play, minimizing our throw-aways so they fit in the teeny-tiny black bin, picked up every two weeks.

Green bins (compost) and blue bins (recycling,) on the other hand, are “free” from the city. Everybody knows that recycling and composting are good, so bring it on, right? We ordered the extra-large Blue Beast on wheels, and two green bins for good measure. A little voice in your Green Mom head starts to worry, though: is this stuff all *really* getting recycled? Sadly, just because you put it in your blue box, that doesn’t make it so.

There are municipal workers on the receiving end of our best efforts, whose job it is to clean up our messes — both literally, and figuratively. Waste management staff are paid, with our tax dollars, to pick out all the non-recyclable junk we tried to slip past them because we weren’t sure, so erred on the side of green (or blue.) This drives up the cost of our municipal recycling program, and also bogs down its efficiency and effectiveness. Inappropriate items that slip through the cracks and accidentally enter the recycling stream also lessen the quality of the recycled end-product. This can make a city lose buyers for our stream of recyclables.

Are Bigger Blue Bins Better?

If your extra-large recycling bin is filled to the brim every two weeks, chances are you’re doing it (slightly) wrong. Two ways you might consider upping your Green Game are:

  1. Poke through your bin to see what you recycle most, and try to reduce that packaging on at the grocery store or other point of purchase.
  2. Challenge yourself to be really honest about what *should* be going in your blue box, and post a list beside the bin so everyone in the family knows for sure.

Something happens to you, once you decide to “go green.” When all the major, relatively easy green changes are made (like getting rid of chemical cleaners, and switching to reusable grocery bags) you start to notice the small stuff. Rather than rest on your green laurels, you set new, tougher, greener goals. “What, exactly, does go in the blue bins,” you wonder. Maybe you even do a little internet research. Turns out it’s kind of hard! Here’s a cheat sheet, if you’re in the City of Toronto, to help you understand the “new rules” for some common family items. You can learn more about what happens to the things in your blue bin here.

What Can Go In A Recycling BinFor moms interested in what I’ll call “Extreme Green,” like my family, here’s how our family is tapping into private industry’s recycling initiatives, to divert some of the top Bin Sins not accepted municipally:

Markers:  Crayola’s new Colour Cycle program offers a school-based marker recycling program, and will pay for your school to ship dried markers (any brand!) to their location in the U.S. I have signed my school up, and happily include any markers dropped off in Ziploc baggies at iSpy Clothing with those shipments.

Batteries: Many industry-based battery recycling programs exist, including collection by Staples and Call2Recycle, with local drop-off locations. My current favourite is the Zinc Saves Lives program from Teck, where your recycled batteries are “paid for” in kind, by donations of dietary zinc (NOT zinc from your actual batteries!) to children in developing countries.

Coffee Pods: I have recently discovered a way to tap into the great TerraCycle coffee pod & squeeze pouch recycling program. A coffee delivery company in the GTA called will deliver coffee pods (for your Tassimo, Keurig or Nespresso machine) to your door, and pick up your empties to be turned into park benches and playgrounds. The coffee inside gets composted too!

Printer Ink Cartridges: Staples stores have long been hubs of electronics recycling. Did you know that you can also drop off your used printer ink cartridges and label maker cartridges? Yes, it’s a way to get you coming back to the store for more, but it’s also a demonstration of how industry can give back to the community it serves.

Whatever your family’s level of commitment to going green, remember: just because you stick it in the blue box, doesn’t mean it gets recycled. When in doubt, keep it out. If your kids are school-aged, here’s a bit of home learning inspiration: spread out your weekly recycling on a tarp and take a critical eye to it, looking for “bin sins” that you may be able to divert more responsibly. Then, maybe celebrate with family bath night — but recycle that soap bottle.