How Good Are Canadians At Recycling?

Recycle Yard

Jun 26, 2020

Back in the 1980s, people around the world began to care a lot more about our planet. There was the threat of acid rain, nuclear waste being dumped into the oceans, and natural disasters that spurred on the environmental movement. It was around this time that the municipalities in Canada began to create recycling programs. But are we very good at recycling? Let’s find out!

Beverage container recycling regulations were first introduced province-wide in 1972, but the Beverage Container Management Board (BCMB) was created in 1997 to create a provincial oversight body for the industry. While major cities have adapted new trends at varying rates, Edmonton began curbside pick-ups back in 1986 – much faster than we did in Calgary as we began a test pilot program in 1991.

So how good are we?

Well, unfortunately, while Canadians want to do a great job with recycling, it turns out that we’re not terribly good at it. Not only are we throwing too much garbage into our blue bins, but improperly preparing our household items for recycling at our facilities! Any item for recycling must be thoroughly cleaned before deposited into your recycling bin – something that Canadians are surprisingly poor at doing.

A spoonful of peanut butter left at the bottom of a jar can contaminate a tonne of paper and make it unrecyclable – the same goes for that yoghurt remnant at the bottom of your container. Contamination is one of the largest impediments that Canadians have when it comes to recycling. In Edmonton, there’s a 24% contamination rate compared to 13% in Calgary.

Contamination doesn’t just limit our ability to recycle, it also costs significantly more money to deal with. You essentially have to pay twice to manage the load of garbage. Canada also sends its garbage to other countries, like China, who have a strict 0.5% contamination rate that we struggle to adequately meet.

And, did you know that Canadians only recycle 9% of our plastics? The rest get dumped into landfills or incinerators, or tossed away as litter. In 2016, that meant 3.2 million metric tonnes ended up as garbage – rather than getting a new lease on life with recycling.

Not only could properly recycling our plastic lower greenhouse gas emissions and boost the economy by creating 42,000 direct and indirect jobs, but it would help our planet’s overall health and our goal of achieving lower global greenhouse gases.

Some shifts are happening – many grocery stores have abandoned single use plastic bags in favour for bring-your-own or compostable bags. Many restaurants have gotten rid of single-use plastic items, such as utensils or straws or coffee cup lids.

What can you do to help?

There are lots of ways that you can improve your recycling habits! We encourage you to:

  • Empty and wash out all containers thoroughly
  • Make sure garbage bags go into the garbage bin
  • Connect with The City of Calgary to confirm whether or not an item is recyclable before deciding where to dispose of it
  • Sort your recyclables into returnable items – such as bottles or tetra-paks – and non-returnable items such as plastic containers, paper and cardboard.

At the end of the day, those working in recycling plants would rather risk a small amount of contamination to have an item you’re uncertain about come to them than to lose the opportunity to recycle altogether.

Do you have a tip to share with us about being a better recycler? We’d love to hear it! Join us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter and share your recycling tips with us and our community of environmental heroes!

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