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Before we come clean on all-things recycling, let’s start by defining exactly what it is.
Recycling is the process of converting used material into new products. It’s an alternative to traditional disposal methods (think: landfills) that helps reduce greenhouse gasses, save energy and conserve raw materials that would otherwise be used to make things from scratch.
From household items to certain types of industrial waste, there’s a plethora of common goods that can be repurposed to help the environment.
THE RIGHT STUFF
If like many of us, you’re unsure of what goes where come garbage day, these are just some of the everyday items (check here for the full list) that should always be recycled:• Paper: Talk about junk mail. Paper is a major offender when it comes to waste, accounting for 33% of municipal trash generated each year. By recycling paper products like cardboard and magazines, you can help reduce the number of trees, water and energy needed to make new ones.
•Plastic: We’re big proponents of reusable water bottles, but if you insist on the single-use variety (ugh), at least put it in the right place when it’s empty. The Polaris Institute estimates that only 14% of water bottles in Ontario actually get recycled.
• Glass: Look no further than your nearest mason jar for this example. Glass food containers are 100% recyclable and can be repurposed over and over without downgrading their quality. You don’t have to remove lids or labels, just remember to rinse first (more on that below).
• Metal: Diverting that Diet Coke from the landfill is more impactful than you think. In fact, recycling just one aluminum can save enough energy to power a TV for three hours. (Binge watchers, rejoice!)
SUCH A WASTE
Perhaps the only thing worse than not recycling at all, is recycling all the wrong things. And it’s a nasty habit that’s costing us millions.
From burnt-on food to bodily fluids (seriously people, WTF?), it seems Canadians are serial offenders when it comes to contaminating their blue bins. And since separating out soiled waste from the good stuff is prohibitively expensive (not to mention dangerous and gross), contaminated recycling is usually rejected and sent directly to the dump, meaning taxpayers are paying to process it twice.
To help you become a better recycler and prevent such needless waste, here are some items you should never toss in your curbside bin:
• Food Waste: We’re not just talking about the obvious stuff here (read: egg shells and apple cores — those belong in your compost), even stuck-on peanut butter can compromise an otherwise recyclable product. Be sure to clean jars and containers beforehand to make sure they don’t end up as trash.
• Textiles: By this, we mean clothing. Textiles and fabric can get caught in machinery so the next time you clean your closet, skip the recycling bin and choose the donation pile instead.
• Appliances: Most cities have drop-off locations for broken toasters and busted laptops; they should not be recycled at home.
• Plastic grocery bags: There’s been a major push towards reusable bags in recent years in large part because most curbside programs don’t accept plastic ones. Some grocery chains do offer the service, though, so be sure to check the next time you visit. Speaking of plastic, those black containers from your latest takeout order are also non-recyclable in a lot of places, including Toronto, for these very reasons.
• Batteries: Single-use, rechargeable and car batteries can be recycled at third-party locations but not in your home blue bin.
So, what’s the takeaway? In the interest of saving Mother Nature (and your taxpayer dollars): take a few minutes to understand your local recycling guidelines.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE TRASHY
When it comes to helping the planet, all nations are not created equal.
Among the countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Germany tops the list of nations winning the recycling game with 65% of its municipal waste being either recycled or composted in 2013. South Korea followed in second place, with Slovenia, Austria and Belgium rounding out the top 5. The United States and Canada didn’t perform quite as well, coming in at 35% and 25%, respectively. Ouch.
One country that’s really not helping matters? China.
It seems the world’s largest country is actually working against global recycling efforts by refusing, as of 2017, to import or process any “foreign garbage”— a longstanding practice that took care of half the world’s recyclables and bolstered an economy dependent on outside sources of reclaimable material. As a consequence, many municipalities once dependent on overseas transfers (at one point, Halifax alone sent 80% of its recyclables to China) are either diverting their recycled goods to the dump or incinerating them to a pulp.
On the other hand, those against net neutrality say that companies like YouTube and Netflix are consuming huge amounts of bandwidth, putting strain on the network.
While countries around the globe sort out their recycling strategies, the business world is hard at work going green.
Companies like Estee Lauder and Intel are leading the way by recycling more than 85% of their waste and establishing a corporate-wide commitment to environmental responsibility, while contemporary brands, like Adidas and Stella McCartney, are also jumping on the eco-bandwagon by manufacturing products using recycled materials.
Sustainability and style in one? We give that two green thumbs-up.