We all know that it’s important to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. But if we’re not doing it properly, it can really do more harm than good. CBC News has been featuring a news series called “Reduce, Reuse, Rethink” which covers stories about recycling across Canada. A recent article simply titled “Many Canadians are recycling wrong, and it’s costing us millions” looked at how, whether out of laziness or ignorance, many of us are unknowingly contaminating our recycling. Not only are these poor habits “costing recycling programs millions of dollars a year,” but they also mean that much of our well intended recyclable products, actually end up in landfills. Unfortunately those of us in the GTA are the worst offenders, based on this study.


I certainly cannot claim to be a pro when it comes to recycling, and am definitely guilty of many of these common mistakes. However I am making a conscious effort to learn everything I can and change this. In the age of information, when most of us walk around with the Internet in our pockets, there is no excuse for not knowing better.

Now, the important thing to remember is that different cities have different rules when it comes to what can and cannot go in your recycling bin. It goes beyond just tossing anything plastic, paper or glass into a Blue Bin. These tips are based on the City of Toronto guidelines, so they may not directly apply to you, but I guarantee a quick Google search will tell you everything you need to know.
Top Tips:
  • Rinse clean. Remove food, liquids & contents before recycling. “Even a few spoonfuls of peanut butter left in a jar can contaminate a tonne of paper and make it unmarketable — destined for the dump” (CBC article)
  • Put items in loose and not bagged (except for shredded paper – in a clear plastic bag)
  • Separate plastic bags/over-wrap from newspapers, flyers, magazines, water/soft drink cases. Recycle separately.
  • Not all items with a recycling symbol are accepted in Toronto’s Blue Bin recycling program.
  • Making sure garbage bags go in the garbage.
If unsure about whether or not an item can be recycled, check Waste Wizard (Toronto). There are also Waste Wizard tools for most cities and regions across Canada.

Getting it Right – What Can and Cannot Go in your Blue Bin
YES: Bottles, jars (lids on)
NO: Glass items – drinking glasses, dishes, cups, crystal, ceramics, window glass, light bulbs, mirrors, pottery, pots, pans
Plastics:(does not include Black Plastics)
  • Tubs, lids
  • Clear food containers, Disposable plates, cups, berry containers, Detergent, hand soap, shampoo bottles (lids, sprayers, pumps – on tight), Beverage bottles (lids on), Cat litter tubs with plastic handles, Plastic paint pails (empty; remove metal handles, handles are garbage)
  • Soft, stretchy plastics: Outer Milk bags, Bread bags (non-foil), Non-zipper Sandwich bags, Bulk food/produce bags, Frozen fruit/vegetable bags (no stand-up pouches), Grocery/retail shopping bags, Dry cleaning bags, Newspaper/flyer, magazine bags (separate item from bag; recycle separately), Garden soil/manure/compost/road salt bags, Diaper/feminine hygiene outer bags, Over-wrap from toilet paper, napkins, paper towels, water/soft drink cases
NO: Plastic packaging: Black plastic of any kind, such as take-out containers and black garbage bags aren’t accepted in the City’s recycling program, household cling wrap, biodegradable containers/film (e.g. compostable plastic bags), laminated plastic film (e.g. chip bags, stand-up resealable pouch bags), pre-packaged items (e.g. meat, cheese), bubble wrap, plastic squeeze tubes for home and personal products (hair, body etc.), single-serve coffee and tea pods
  • Aluminum/steel cans
  • (place lid in can and pinch closed)
  • Aluminum trays, burner liners, pie plates, roasting pans
  • Cookie tins
  • Aerosol cans (empty; lids on)
  • Paint cans (empty, remove lids and recycle separately)
NO: Metal: propane/helium cylinders and tanks, tools, scrap metal, coat hangers, pots, pans, small appliances, electronics, binders, auto parts
  • Bags, advertising mail, fine paper, envelopes (including window), Newspapers, flyers, directories, magazines, catalogues (remove over-wrap, recycle separately), Gift wrap, tissue paper, cards (no ribbons, bows, foil wrap), Shredded paper (put in clear plastic bag, tie closed), Soft/hard cover books, Cardboard, Boxboard (e.g. cereal, tissue, detergent, shoe; remove liners, flatten, no freezer boxes), Corrugated cardboard (clean, unwaxed, flattened; pizza boxes must be empty; remove over-wrap from water/soft drink cases, recycle separately), Rolls (toilet, paper towel, wrapping paper), Milk/juice cartons and boxes (straws are garbage), Cans (e.g. chips, nuts, frozen juice –place metal end in can and pinch closed; pull-off strips are garbage)
NO: Hot beverage cups – Most disposable hot beverage cups are made of paper, but are lined with plastic or wax, which makes them difficult to sort mechanically at the recycling facility. Please place coffee cups in the garbage. Non-black plastic lids and paper sleeves should be removed and placed in the Blue Bin.
  • Other paper products: waxed cardboard, waxed paper, ribbons. Soiled tissues and napkins go in the Green Bin.
Foam polystyrene (does not include Black Foam items)
  • Foam food and protective packaging (e.g. drinking cups, egg cartons, meat trays, takeout food containers, electronic packaging).
Other Items:
  • Clothing and textiles: Old clothes, shoes, blankets, and curtains don’t belong in the Blue Bin. If in reasonable condition- swap, sell or donate these items.
  • Medical waste: Needles are hazardous waste and must not be put in garbage. Take to a Drop-off Depot. Plastic catheter/colostomy bags and tubes are garbage
  • Electronics: Most cities have established E-Wast programs that will recycle old and end of life electronics safely, to keep them out of landfills. Check out Toronto’s E-Waste drop-off locations, and more information.
Again, the above tips are based on the City of Toronto‘s recycling guidelines, and may be different from your town or region. For example, my current home base is in Whitby, and unlike Toronto we cannot recycle Styrofoam and plastic bags. A simple Google search of “(Your City) recycling” should help you figure out exactly where that item can or cannot go. Not only will recycling right save your city some money, but will help make sure that misplaced products don’t end up in landfills when they could in fact be recycled into a new life.

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