Reduce Recycling Contamination With A Handy Waste Wizard

The good news: most Canadians are recycling! The bad news: our efforts may be in vain because the rules keep changing. Many items we thought were recyclable are no longer recyclable, and this is causing a whole lot of contamination in the system. For example, take-out coffee cups and lids are imprinted with the recycling symbol, but they’re now considered contaminants at many Canadian city transfer stations.

What is a contaminate?

A “contaminate”, as explained by the 2018 CBC expose “Reduce, Reuse, Rethink” is the technical name for non-recyclable materials such as leftover food in containers to non-recyclable plastic packaging, to more obvious garbage such as clothing and propane tanks.

What’s changed?

We no longer ship our recyclables to China. Although China is the world’s largest importer of recyclable material, its government recently started banning imports of paper with more than 0.5 percent contamination. Unfortunately, North American cities are unable to meet this standard. In fact, the cities with the dirtiest recycling, Toronto and Edmonton have contamination rates upwards of 25 percent!

“Something as simple as a piece of paper with a coffee stain on it — that piece of paper a year ago would have been recyclable,” says Jim McKay, General Manager, Solid Waste Management Services, City of Toronto. “Today that’s actually garbage.”

It sounds all doom and gloom, but take heart, there are a lot of things we can still do to reduce contamination and get back to saving the planet! Start with these simple steps:

Empty and clean out all containers before recycling

Make sure garbage bags go in the garbage (not in the blue bin)

If unsure whether an item is recyclable, use the online app (Waste Wizard in Toronto and Vancouver, WasteWise in Edmonton — there are equivalents in other cities)

Know the rules, adjust habits and continue to make the effort

For more information visit the recycling council website or app for your province, in Ontario visit  Recycling Council of Ontario, and in BC visit Recycling Council of British Columbia.

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