Toronto homeowners usually have the best of intentions when they throw something in the green or blue bin. We all want to do our part to reduce wastefulness and consumption, but it can just get so confusing. What colour Styrofoam can we recycle again? Should we be tossing in a glass salsa jar even if we haven’t run it through the dishwasher first? Often, we err on the side of “might as well,” thinking that it’s better to at least try to put it in compost or recycling, and if need be, they can sort it out at the plant.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work like that. Toronto spends around $5 million each year to separate garbage incorrectly mixed in with recycling — money that homeowners are indirectly paying for through their property taxes.
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But money isn’t the only consideration.
Since it’s too expensive to sort and clean it to the standards our plants require, we send much of our paper scraps on a train to Vancouver and then onto a ship to China, which has an abundance of cheap labour. (China announced that in 2018 they will dramatically reduce imports). The carbon footprint of all of this is enormous.
Our green bin program could also improve. Toronto’s composting quality is so poor that it cannot be used for gardening. Composting plants are routinely forced to close because the smell is so horrible, mostly because of items that should never have been included in the first place. When that happens, compost simply gets sent to the landfill.
So, for both financial and environmental reasons it would behoove us to pay attention to what we’re putting in the blue and green bins. Better yet, seek out environmentally friendly alternatives so that we’re not confronted with this problem in the first place — reduce and reuse before recycle, and all that.
Here are the top five household items Torontonians should just throw in the garbage (or stop buying!).
Diapers and sanitary products
Just because Toronto’s composting program accepts diapers and sanitary products doesn’t mean they belong there. They get sorted right out and into a landfill. Any diapers missed are responsible, along with pet droppings and plastic, for the horrific smells associated with composting plants. The city only allowed diapers in the first place to increase participation in the green bin program and because garbage pick-up was reduced to biweekly. Consider cloth diapers.
Related Read: Don’t Forget These 5 Fall Home Maintenance Tasks
Coffee cups are lined with a wax resin that makes them automatic trash. Consider buying a ceramic travel mug (and save 10 cents at most coffee shops!).
The laser that sorts plastic can’t differentiate black plastic from the clear and green, so put your black coffee lids and takeout containers straight into the garbage. Consider informing establishments of this so that they can change suppliers.
Torontonians have mistakenly recycled 10 million pods already. The amount of waste these coffee pods have produced in the few short years they’ve been on the market is astounding. In 2014, enough Keurig machine pods were sold that if placed end-to-end, they would circle the globe 10.5 times, reports The Atlantic. Even when labeled biodegradable, Toronto’s composting system still cannot break these down. Consider the (better tasting) alternative of a percolator, French press or drip machine.
Although the city says it’s fine to line a compost bin with a regular plastic big, naysayers warn against it. They claim it makes the organic waste rot too quick, making it smelly. When that happens, the organic matter is sent to a landfill. When they must be disposed of, stash empty (no receipts), clean bags inside of each other and tie loosely. Consider using reusable bags and saving 5 cents.