Toronto trash full of recyclables

Residential trash 80 percent full of recyclables Town Crier audit shows
That’s prior to summer 2009 garbage strike
By Sandie Benitah, Kris Scheuer and Eric McMillan
(Originally published in Town Crier Feb. 07 as a follow-up to a Dec/05 story)

Eric McMillan sorts thru 40 bags of residential trash. Pile on right is recyclables.

A year later, nothing has changed.
At the end of 2005, a Town Crier analysis of household garbage showed about 80 percent of what we were throwing out as trash could easily have been recycled in blue boxes and green bins.
In the year since then the disposal of Toronto’s million tonnes of garbage has been a major issue, with fights over whether to incinerate it, ship it to Michigan or bury it near London.
Here’s a suggestion: Just recycle it.
Twelve months after our original survey, the Town Crier has found that — still — most of our so-called garbage is recyclable.
For two weeks reporters collected garbage bags left at residential curbsides in Toronto: 40 bags in total, five selected randomly from each of our eight coverage areas.
On Dec. 14, we dumped it all together in our parking lot and separated the legitimate, non-recyclable garbage from what could have been put in recycling bins. And again we found more than 80 percent should not have been bagged as garbage. Bottles, pop cans, food scraps, recyclable plastic containers, diapers, tissues, newsprint — and lots of paper.
Sometimes bags of nothing but paper.
“I’m saddened,” said Franz Hartmann, co-executive director of Toronto Environmental Alliance when told of our findings. “It is clear we can do better — Torontonians can do better in waste diversion.”
Bag after bag, for every piece of refuse we threw on our garbagepile, we threw several more pieces on our “recyclables” pile. When we were done, the difference between the two mounds was staggering, the recyclable pile appearing to be four to five times larger.
Counted among the non-recyclable garbage were many items that are not accepted in the city’s green bins and blue boxes but could be reused in other ways.
Some brand new clothes that could have kept children and adults warm this holiday season, had they been given to Goodwill or other charities and used clothing depots, for example. Or the expensive pair of designer jeans. Or the working electronic equipment.
We left all these among the 20 percent of non-recyclable, although a thoughtful recycler would find other uses for them besides being thrown in the trash.
The garbage bags in which garbage was packaged we did not count in either of our two piles, however. We took them out of the equation on the theory that, if most of the garbage is recycled, the bags would not be needed and thus would not end up in the trash themselves. Furthermore, the city is talking about adding plastic bags to their list of recyclables in 2007 (this did happen in Dec, 2008).
We did include other plastic bags, such as bread or milk bags, in the non-recyclable category though.
After last year’s exposé about what people are throwing out, civic officials promised a crackdown on residents who do not abide by the city’s recycling provisions. However, city officials could only tell us that they’ve kept the bag limit at six bags instead of reducing it to five the way they were supposed to last spring. While they said they have a plan for enforcement, it includes counting on garbage collectors to take note of who is recycling and who isn’t.
To date we know of no efforts in this direction, nor of any major program to educate the public about the often confusing rules for recycling and garbage pickup.
Lawson Oates, acting director of planning and policy for the city’s solid waste management services department, said the city has definitely made strides when it comes to recycling but obviously there’s room for improvement.
“We recognize that there is room for improvement in our recycling and composting programs,” he said in an email interview, before going into the city’s current plan for improvements.
A city pilot program is introducing a toter that will provide residents with additional storage capacity for their combined blue and grey box materials, he said.  The toter is intended to replace the boxes and simplify the process for the resident.
The results of the pilot project will be reported to city council in the new year, said Lawson.
The Town Crier also asked people on the street about their reaction to the garbage audit’s findings.
Karen Henderson, a 22-year-old student living in the Annex, said while her household has been avid recyclers, she has friends who need some admonishment from time to time.
“I have friends that are just awful,” she said. “They just don’t seem to care or are maybe just unaware of how harmful it is to the environment.
“I always have to lecture them.”
Anna Millberg, a 52-year-old Torontonian shopping on Bloor St., said she is appalled with the results of the Town Crier‘s finding.
“It’s disgusting,” she said. “In this day and age….”
She insisted that she and her family are avid recyclers who go to great lengths to make sure they are doing their part.
TEA’s Hartmann said, generally speaking, he thinks Toronto is quite good at recycling, especially since annual statistics show the city is consistently increasing its waste diversion rate.
“It makes me think there are many ways to determine how Torontonians are at recycling,” he said. “The more methods we can use to assess that, the better.”

With files from Town Crier staff: Carmine Bonanno, Karolyn Coorsh, Lorianna De Giorgio and Dan Hoddinott.


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