Incorrect recycling practices have far worse consequences than consumers typically expect. The critical issue begins when non-recyclable materials are mixed with recycling. A striking 30% of what consumers dispose into recycling bins should indeed be placed into the garbage. Examples of contaminated recyclables include pizza boxes with grease stains or paper with liquid stains. The process of recycling paper requires adding water; as such, any residual oil or grease would render the batch non-recyclable. Moreover, when contamination is severe, the entire bin ends up in landfills. This growing issue of recyclables ending up in landfills has contributed to the rising total waste disposal in Ontario. Indeed, Ontario takes the lead in Canada in terms of the amount produced, with over 9 million tonnes of waste in 2016, according to Statistics Canada. Understanding the negative consequences of inappropriate recycling can yield insight into what suitable measures we can take to mitigate this issue in our communities.
Toronto in particular has faced ever-growing financial burdens as a result of inappropriate recycling. Depending on the material, items may damage equipment used in recycling facilities or damage recyclables within the same batch. Moreover, contamination lowers the quality of the bale, which effectively lowers its resale value. In 2018, the City of Toronto director Jim McKay predicted that for every percent decrease in contaminated recyclables, Toronto could save up to $1 million as a result of better resale rates. Furthermore, China is the leading purchaser of recycled items in the world and Toronto’s main buyer. Given the ongoing contamination issues, they have recently imposed more stringent guidelines as to the quality of material they are willing to purchase. The recyclable batch will only be accepted if contamination accounts for less than 0.5 percent. This has led to the need to resort to alternative purchasers, including Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, and the U.S.
One intervention that Toronto has implemented to mitigate inappropriate waste placement is the inspection of blue bins before collection. Inspected bins with excessive misplaced items (i.e. non-recyclables) are left behind and tagged to indicate to the owner that the material was incorrectly disposed. Recycling guides are also distributed to explain what measures homeowners must take in terms of separating contamination so that the bin can be collected in the next round. To facilitate this process and reduce queries of specific items and their proper disposal, the Waste Wizard was created as a user-friendly online platform to search common items and find out where to place them for collection. The TOwaste app performs a similar function and serves as a convenient way to access the Waste Wizard search engine, as well as additional information such as maps of where to drop off certain types of materials including biohazardous waste and donation bins.
Despite significant progress in interventions that aim to control and manage recycling practices in communities across the Greater Toronto Area, ongoing efforts are needed to oversee that these methods are effective for the city both financially and practically. It is imperative that we continue to take measures to follow guidelines that are implemented on an ongoing basis in order to decrease waste production and enhance recycling where appropriate.
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