A few years ago Canadians were shocked to see news footage of containers full of dirty recyclables and garbage turning up in Asia. Fed up with the poor quality material we were shipping, China now refuses recyclables from Canada. Personally, I think it is great that they refuse our recyclables, as it is time that we learn to recycle properly and not expect other countries to accept our junk.

From going door-to-door and inspecting recycling bins, I have observed so many items that are not recyclable (plastic #6, dirty plastic, clothes, dirty diapers, etc). It seems like people have become complacent and throw any old thing in the recycling bin. They treat the recycling bin as a catch-all, the way we used to use the garbage bin.

Sometimes, being green can be more challenging than we think. We must be careful about what we throw in the recycling bin. All items in the recycling bin must be clean, both for the quality of recyclables as well as for the health of the workers in the sorting center. I often come across recycling bins where squirrels have chewed a hole. I know right away that there was food waste left on the items placed inside the bin. When all recyclable items in the bin are clean, rodents are not attracted to the bins.

Most people are unaware to what extent the recycling process is long and nasty. The things the recycling workers see and smell are unbearable; and can be very discouraging at times. According to La Presse (30 juillet 2019 ), the air quality in the recycling sorting center can be 262 worse than normal! There is clearly some work to be done that could really help them.

First, the employees in the sorting process often find a lot of waste that really shouldn’t be there. It all starts with the pre-sorting procedure where the biggest pieces are taken out. After that, there is the sorting where they find an incredible amount of objects that are totally out of place like bricks, rocks, old signs, weights, armchairs and ‘God knows what’! Some of these items are there because the resident did not take the time to inform themselves of what should be in a recycling bin. Other times, residents participate in ‘wish cycling’ – where they put an item in the green bin hoping that it is recycled.

Next, recyclable items pass through a series of conveyor belts, fans and shafts to be sorted by category (all plastic #4 is regrouped together for instance). The ultimate goal for our recyclables is to have manufactures buy those bundles so that they can offer us new goods made partly from recycled materials. If the bundles are too contaminated by food residue or other contaminants, they become unsellable.

Recycling programs are designed to help the environment by reducing the amount of garbage sent to landfill. The programs expect residents to participate properly by both sorting properly and ensuring their recyclables are clean. We can do our part to improve the working conditions for the sorting center employees by recycling properly and not using the green bin as the replacement garbage can. After all, what use is there having a recycling bin if you don’t know how to use it?

Nikki Schiebel