Posted by: Rob | May 6, 2008

I am giving up recycling

My late wife Shelley and our two daughters were instrumental in making our household a recycling household. I remember the days when F was in elementary school. She would pick up trash and recyclables off the school ground and haul them home for sorting into the appropriate container. This all started when we lived in Calgary and so the recycling ways came with us when we moved to Kansas in ’92.

Recycling in Kansas was a bit more…of a challenge. There were far fewer outlets for recycling than we were used to in Calgary. But the gals (mostly Shelley) prevailed and we soon found outlets for all of our recyclable goods, with the exception of the #6 plastics. The #6 plastic is polystyrene and, at the time, was limited mostly to meat trays and drink cup lids. Would Shelley throw them away given there was no recycling outlet for them? Noooooooo. We saved that stuff in the hopes that one day some enterprising recycler would suddenly create a huge demand for it. Well, that never happened and when the movers were loading us up for our return to Canada, they marveled at three large cardboard containers that seemed to weigh nothing at all. Yep, all that #6 came back with us and was eventually dropped into a recycling bin in Canada.

Recycling became a part of the DNA around here. It became habit and virtually second nature to wash cans and remove the labels from them, wash glass jars and bottles out and remove the labels from them. Separate and segregate all other coded plastics for easy dropping off in the appropriate bin at the recycling and transfer station. We even bought six plastic trash bin containers, each dutifully labeled with the appropriate recycling code, to further simplify sorting and dropping off on recycling run days.

Over the years, it seems that are some simple, easy to follow rules that have evolved for recycling:

1) Clean/rinse the container out (and that includes removing the food residue)

2) Remove labels from cans and jars

3) Newspapers go in the newspaper bins

4) Other mixed paper goes in the mixed paper bin

5) The cardboard crusher is for cardboard (that means take out the polystyrene foam packing material BEFORE you put the box in the crusher)

6) Put the plastics into the bin and MAKE SURE THE NUMBERS MATCH.

7) Follow the local directions, signs and other instructions.

Of course, I am reasonably sure of the above, although I was unable to find an Idiot’s Guide to Recycling on any of the local municipal on-line resources, such as:

I thought I might check out a provincial resource as well, but it wasn’t much help either. Great resource if you’re recycling old tires or paint or electronics. But plastics? Well, not so much.

Now, anyone who knows me personally will know that this is giant step for me and not in a good direction. Over the years I have become more environmentally conscious and quite a bit more vocal about it too. But even I have my limits. And I’ve been pushed over the edge on this one. What it boils down to is either the lazy unwillingness of people to follow the above “rules” or just their sheer stupidity.

I have witnessed time after time the cross contamination of the plastics bins. Talking with one of the yard folks one day confirmed my sneaking suspicion. Unless a bin can be pretty much certified as “pure”, it is deemed to be contaminated, of no use and shipped to landfill. I don’t know why it’s so hard to match the number on the plastic with the number on the bin. The situation is further aggravated by the sudden lack of demand for good ole #6 polystyrene plastics. The transfer site has made repeated feeble attempts to re-label the bins to reflect that they no longer accept this particular plastic. I say feeble because the attempts are half-assed. I mean, how long do you expect a regular paper label applied with clear packing tape to stay on a metal bin outdoors in the climate of northern Alberta? Anyway, the slow thinking populace around here just doesn’t get it and they continue to plod along doing what they’ve always done and that includes continually contaminating the #1, #3, and #7 bin with #6’s.

So now I’m done. I’m done ensuring that our landfills are the most orderly in the country, full of pre-sorted (well kind of pre-sorted) plastics. I’m tired of adding my clean cans and jars to bins that are full of yucky, dirty, unwashed cans and jars that haven’t had the labels removed. I’m done being the only one on the block with only one bag of trash for pick-up every week. I mean why should I waste my energy, time and valuable resources (like water for washing and natural gas for heating that water) just to make things nice and clean to go into the landfill?

Residents of Fort Saskatchewan and Edmonton have blue bag recycling programs. Essentially they put all manner of (unsorted) recyclables into clear blue plastic sacks and they are picked up each week at curbside. From there these blue sacks are taken to the Cloverbar MERF where paid employees sort it out and queue it up for wherever it goes to next. Now this is the kind of recycling I could get behind. Why isn’t it available where we live?


  1. we’ve got ‘curbside recycling bins’ as an option – mixed stuff goes in and we pay $1.00 extra per quarter to do so. Odd.

    But in the back of my head, i truly wonder if it doesn’t just go to a different landfill… it seems too easy?

  2. having just moved from a house to an apartment I find myself now sharing recycling containers with 23 strangers. and at least 22 of them don’t appear to know how to separate their refuse despite capital letters, graphics, arrows and other assorted intructions.

    the thing that pisses me off the most is that people seem to be putting PLASTIC BAGS full of bottles into the “glass only” bins. why are people so f*$#&*ing lazy

  3. […] is up today. It talks about the difficulty of being a recycler. My inspiration was Rob, who else? He wrote a piece on his own blog about the frustrations involved when trying to be a conscientious consumer in a […]

  4. We have one bin, and everything goes into it. We don’t have to remove labels, and though I do try to rinse things out, I am not about to wash garbage. People sort it by hand somewhere far away from my house.

    My objection is that while there are so many different kinds of plastics, my city will only accept #1 and #2. All that #4, #5, and #6 that I have tons of goes in the trash, and it annoys me. It’s recyclable, but someone decided they can’t be arsed. If that’s the case, then the manufacture of anything but #1 and #2 should be outlawed, or at least sanctioned with an environmental impact fee to offset the recycling cost, and maybe we’d break even.

  5. @ daisyfae: A dollar per quarter is cheap. I think my monthly trash pick up fee is around $10 or $11. Even another dollar per month would assuage the conscience a bit if it allowed for easy disposition of the recyclables (and not knowing where they went).

    @ nursemyra: That’s the kind of behaviour I’m talking about. People who put plastic bags full of whatever into the mixed paper or newspaper bin. It’s just like, “Huh? WTF?”

    @TGLB: Your point about “washing garbage” made me think. I’d never really considered in that way before.

    There are lots of intricacies about the whole recycling thing. I think we’d be better off focusing on the other two r’s: Reduce and Re-use. (I was taken a bit to task on another blog about my attitude on re-use, but I’m reformed now.)

    Imagine my conundrum: I’m currently an employee of a company that makes pretty much all of these plastics. Talk about internal conflict.

    Thanks all for your comments. Much appreciated.

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