Gord Turner: Obstacles stand in the way of recycling everything

Castlegar columnists looks at recycling challenges.

I watched the Waste Management truck drive through our neighbourhood picking up paper and plastic recyclables from our blue boxes. I noticed one of the signs on the container part of the truck simply stated, “Why not recycle everything?”

And I thought, “Yes, that should be the goal.” Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening. We now have a decent brochure which outlines what we can recycle at the curb, and several items are not on that list.

I’m sure that a lot of people (including me) are happy to have a guide to what can be recycled and when. The City of Castlegar and Waste Management finally got the message — that is, we have to know in advance what is allowed in each box, and so they created a useable guide. Now if we place the wrong items in the blue boxes, it’s fair that we get an “Oops” notice.

However, as one of my friends indicated when we were discussing the positives and negatives of recycling here in Castlegar, we should be able to recycle everything. If it’s an inconvenience (such as plastic bags) to Waste Management, they should come up with a solution to handle it. If Waste Management loses a bit of time or a bit of income because of having to deal with inconvenient waste items, so be it! They should have to figure out a way to deal with it.

The strange thing is that homeowners can deliver plastic bags to the green bins at the Ootischenia landfill, and that is completely acceptable. Why are plastic bags in the curb blue boxes not acceptable, and yet plastic bags at the dump recycling facility are acceptable? Surely, Waste Management deals with both.

At any rate, if homeowners are unwilling to drive to the Ootischenia landfill recycling centre, then their plastic bags end up in their garbage bags. And we all know how long it takes for nature’s processes to break down even soft plastic.

One item that should be included in Castlegar’s recycling contract with Waste Management is the disposal of glass. Early on, glass was being picked up monthly, but that feature was dropped a couple of years ago. If the goal is to “recycle everything,” then Waste Management needs to include glass. Many larger communities, for example, have discovered that recycled glass has quite a number of uses. In Castlegar, is glass simply another “inconvenient” item that won’t be picked up at the curb?

Indeed, it would seem so because homeowners can drop sealer jars, wine bottles, and foreign beer bottles in the special green bins for glass at the Ootischenia recycling depot. All they have to do is waste gasoline to drive their glass to the facility.

The worst culprit for non-recyclability is Styrofoam. Styrofoam is not recyclable at the curb, and it is not recyclable in the green bins at the Ootischenia facility. It is a contaminant that no one wants, and no one seems to know what to do about it. I hope Waste Management is working on a solution to this problem as right now most homeowners’ Styrofoam ends up in garbage bags.

Perhaps the problem is at the manufacturing and product-wrapping level. Everyone knows that Styrofoam will protect fridges and microwaves and computers from getting scraped or damaged. Every butcher knows that Styrofoam is the best underlay for packaging meats. All sorts of products are shipped or packaged using Styrofoam. It seems to be a feature of modern living, but the use of this material at the production-end has to stop.

Clearly, Waste Management and our city council have to do something about Styrofoam. In the meantime, we as the general public need to figure out how to pressure those using Styrofoam packaging to stop doing so. Maybe thousands of letters to the Canadian environment minister would get this lobbying started.

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