Blue bin blues

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Blue binEvery Monday it’s the same thing. I walk my dog along local streets, past the blue bins put out on the curb by residents, bins stuffed with content meant for recycling. Two bins are provided to every household: one for recyclable plastics and glass, the other for paper and cardboard. And to remind people which is which, one is clearly marked on the outside, and the county sends around an annual calendar, with reminders on how to sort your materials. Plus, the county advertises in local media about recycling and has a website all about it.

And yet every Monday, I see the same thing: bin after bin of mixed content, and bins with non-recyclable trash in them. (NB: in some areas, the second bin is grey to indicate paper and cardboard, but not every municipality has adopted this and in those that have, some residents still put the wrong things in them).

And that annoys me. I’m a taxpayer and I gladly pay for the recycling service. but I also have to pay for the extra staff time and facilities required to sort the material that arrives unsorted. There is no good reason for that or for the extra costs these people are placing on those of us who strive to do the right thing. It’s not someone else’s responsibility to sort their garbage.

For decades, we’ve seen print ads, books, newspaper flyers, calendars, and direct mail campaigns; we’ve heard radio shows, we’ve seen TV programs and ads about recycling. Recycling is taught in elementary schools. It’s front page news. Thousands of articles and editorials online discuss recycling and what goes into each blue bin. So unless you’re a new immigrant recently arrived from a country without modern waste disposal, no one in Ontario can claim not to know the rules or know where to look them up.

But there they are: bins full chock full of unsorted refuse. I don’t know if this is because these residents are ignorant of the rules, or can’t be bothered to read them, if they aren’t bright enough to understand them, or if they’re simply too lazy to care. Maybe they’re all just millennials too busy on their cellphones to pay attention. I don’t know. But the irresponsibility of it all bothers me.

And it’s costing all of us money. In a town already overtaxed (this council has raised our taxes three times in three years already!), we simply can’t afford for people to be so irresponsible.

It’s not like recycling is new and people haven’t cottoned on to the rules. Recycling has been with us since the 1970s, and curbside pickup since the early 1980s. The provincial government passed O.Reg 101.94 that required municipal recycling and blue bin programs back in 1994. And that was followed by the Waste Diversion Act of 2002.

But some people seem oblivious. The Globe and Mail published a story about Toronto’s fight with recycling in November, opening with:

You know that paper Tim Hortons or Starbucks coffee cup? It’s not recyclable in Toronto. It’s garbage. Who knew, right?
From coffee cups with wax linings to black plastic (including bags), bed sheets to car parts, and even dead pets – they’re all items wrongly thrown into Toronto’s recycling blue bins each year. In fact, a quarter of all things sent to the curb to be recycled shouldn’t be there, according to city figures. Sorting the garbage from the recycling costs millions of dollars annually.

Millions of dollars. What does it cost Simcoe County to sort its waste? I mean to find out. But, yes, some of us knew that paper coffee cups aren’t recyclable. It’s clearly noted on the Simcoe County website, too.

The Toronto Star noted in an earlier article that,

About 20 per cent of refuse collected through the city’s blue bin recycling program eventually finds its way to the Green Lane landfill, according to one insider at the city’s solid waste management services. That number has grown since 2007.

The current figure is up to 26%, making it a quarter of what people put into their blue bins in Toronto doesn’t belong there, and has to get sorted out and re-routed to the landfill. At extra cost. The article added, “Extracting waste residue — contaminants such as plastic wrapping, drinking straws and disposable metal propane cylinders — drives up processing costs at the city’s two recycling facilities.”

Of course it does. And taxpayers pay for it. It’s become so expensive that Toronto has hired recycle bin inspectors to go around on collection days and look into your curbside bins. As Global News reported in December:

The City of Toronto says it’s lifting the lids on residents’ recycling bins in order to help curb a pricey problem. Roughly 26 per cent of what gets put in recycling bins is actually garbage, and the city says it’s costing millions of dollars.
“For every percentage point we can reduce that, the city will save between $600,000 and $1 million a year,” said Jim McKay, general manager for Toronto’s Solid Waste Management Services Division.

It adds, “The city is also mulling issuing fines for those who can’t seem to get the message.” I like that idea. if the carrot won’t work, whack ’em with the stick. And keep doing it until they pay attention.

So even if residents can’t be convinced to do the right thing and sort their own trash properly, maybe seeing their taxes go up – or better yet, a fine applied to their property taxes – will convince them to be responsible.

We should do that here too, but I doubt our current council will do anything so radical or community-minded. They are called The Block for a good reason, after all: doing things for the greater good isn’t on their agenda. 

Collingwood deserves better.

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