Wednesday, February 18, 2009
What really does go in the Blue Bin?
Last autumn, the City of Toronto announced it was expanding its "Blue Bin" recycling program to add styrofoam takeaway containers and plastic bags. I was pleased by this announcement, as it suggests there may be demand for the products and it will divert a significant amount of waste from landfills.
But these are fairly difficult materials to include in the program, so the instructions in newspapers were a bit convoluted.
Plastic bags are particularly troublesome. Not all can be recycled and they can't be thrown loose into the bin. Thankfully, the city did post instructions for plastic bags and polystyrene on its website. Sadly, the changes rendered the natty card the city sent around earlier in the autumn obsolete, and since my computer is nowhere near my kitchen, I am occasionally left guessing as to whether an item is recyclable. Fear not, Torontonians, they have updated the card on their website. The one I need is here. It's now printing and will soon be appearing on the side of my fridge. If you're in a different part of Toronto (Scarborough or Etobicoke, for example) or an apartment building, they've got ones tailored for you, downloadable from this page.
When I went in search of the new chart, I realized that it's very confusing when it comes to plastics. More confusing than it really needs to be.
I also discovered that far fewer things are accepted than I'd initially thought. Most of the confusion surrounds plastics. The guide said that plastic jugs and tubs are accepted, but plastic egg cartons or berry packages are not. This seemed odd, since many of them have the same number on their recycling symbol. Why would a #1 PETE jug be accepted, but not a #1 egg carton?
To find a clear explanation, I ended up at the City of Ottawa's website. This site clearly explains that the symbols only identify the major component of the plastic. So jugs, which have a high density of PETE are what recyclers want, not the low-density egg cartons and clamshells.
When you're asking "Does this plastic container go into the blue bin or the garbage (or craft box)?" The simplest way to answer in Toronto is "Recycle it if it's a #1 or #2 bottle or jug, or a tub with #5 or#6. If it's not, chuck it."
So the short answer is no, you can't simply go by the numbers, and yes, you'll need the city's chart on your fridge for quite some time. Hopefully one day demand for recyclables will increase (perhaps once oil becomes more expensive again) so that more items will be accepted. Maybe then we'll have a nice, simple guide.