The ‘throw it away’ age has passed. There is no away anymore. Plastic rubbish builds up on roadsides, in hedgerows and on fences and trees near careless supermarkets. – Pip Richards, The Sustainable Trust (U.K.)
We’ve been bringing our own cloth grocery bags to the store for eons. The bags hang by on the kitchen door so that it’s easy to grab them just as we head out. We’ve been doing this for so long that it surprises us when people comment on the bags, saying, “I should do that.”
Yes, they should.
However, aside from the 5 lovely little mesh bags (that are starting to fall apart) my sister gave to us some years ago, we have not made it a habit to bring our own small bags for vegetables.
We try to remember to wash the small plastic bags that the stores provide, and reuse (and re-reuse) them. But, until recently, we were not always remembering to put those bags in with the cloth grocery bags.
Shame on us!
[T]here’s really no reason to use plastic […] in the humungous quantities that it’s used now.
– me, blog from OUR kitchen | Blog Action: Climate Change, 19 October 2009
In a similar vein, as much as I would like to stop wearing clothing made of synthetic fabric, for formal occasions (ie: just about every concert I am involved in) I do still wear stockings. Of course, because they are fragile, they get runs. I try to rescue them by stitching up the hidden-from-view runs. But eventually, the stockings have to be retired; they cannot be put into the blue recycle bins.
It got me thinking. Is there a way to re-use them? Suddenly, I realized that, with not very much sewing machine work, they could be made into bags to replace the ubiquitous little plastic bags that are available in every supermarket vegetable aisle.
As I was stitching the black bag (very very stretchy – it’s made from the top part of support hosiery!), I suddenly realized that I could also recycle the bags that avocados are sold in.
I know. It still means that we keep getting more avocado bags – more than I can ever recycle. But at least we can stop taking any more small plastic bags from the store.
With every purchase, the entire life cycle of a product should be evaluated, including recyclability. Plastics are not only toxic to produce, consume (off-gassing and leaching) and recycle, but those that do get recycled (generally numbers 1 and 2) degrade in the process, are made into nonrecyclable products (downcycled), and are therefore destined to end up in landfill. […] We drag the trash can to the curb at night, and by the time we get up the next morning, the cereal liners and dirty paper towels have disappeared, as if by magic. But when we say “we threw something away,” what do we really mean? “Away” might take trash out of our sight, but that doesn’t mean it should be out of our minds. After all, our discards don’t just evaporate because the garbageman whisked them off.
– Bea Johnson, Zero Waste Home, Chapter 1: The 5 Rs and the Benefits of the Zero Waste Lifestyle
[L]et’s do something positive to reduce the hideous number of plastic bags being used – 1 million are consumed per minute globally – of which hundreds of thousands end up in the oceans.
See how perfect they are for broccoli and oranges? (They’re excellent for other produce as well.) Oh yes, and in case you’re wondering, not one clerk has ever questioned us about using our bags instead of the ones provided by the store.
But but but…
Just in case you’re congratulating yourself that you are very green and always recycle, take a look at these things that are NOT allowed in recycle bins for Canada’s provincial capitals from West to East:
What CANNOT be put into recycle bins and a few things that CAN
- Victoria, British Columbia
Not Accepted for recycling:
» Beverage bottles or jugs for flavoured tea, juice, or other beverages (return to depot for deposit refund)
» Stand-up pouches
» Containers for motor oil, vehicle lubricant or antifreeze products
» Packaging labelled biodegradable or compostable
» Liquid-absorbing pads, e.g., in trays of meat, poultry, fish, etc.
» Plastic wrap
» Shrink wrap for meat, poultry, fish or cheese
» Plastic blister packs e.g. plastic/foil protective packaging for chewing gum and pills
» Ceramic plant pots
» Lawn edging, tarps, plastic furniture or toys
» Garden hoses
» Plastic string or rope
» Plastic paint cans
» Pails larger than 25L
» Pails for lubricants and oils
» Microwavable bowls with metal rims
» Plastic or foil lids from coffee and tea pods
» Tear-away plastic seal used on hard plastic food containers under the lid
» Plastic netting bags (used for avocados, onions, etc.)
- Edmonton, Alberta
Of all of Canada’s provincial capitals, Edmonton appears to be quite advanced with their recycling program. On the city of Edmonton’s webpage, there is a relatively long list of what IS allowed in the blue recycle bin (all types of plastic containers and bags, including including bread and dry cleaner bags ARE allowed). The following is disallowed and Edmontonians are instructed to discard these items (ie: put them into landfill)
» cereal and food box liners
The following items ARE allowed in Edmonton’s blue bins/bags:
» Plastic soft drink and water bottles (PETE 1)
» Plastic milk jugs, soap, detergent, fabric softener, shampoo (PETE 2)
» Plastic bags (blue bags, grocery bags) (PETE 4)
» Plastic containers (yogurt, margarine) (PETE 5)
There is a note on the city’s website saying “Please do not recycle anything that isn’t listed. Improper items can jam machinery“
- Regina, Saskatchewan
Items prohibited in the Blue Cart:
» Any plastic items not labeled with #1-7 such as pens, straws, laundry baskets and more
» Bottle caps and lids
» Plastic bags and plastic wrap
» Used tissues, napkins and paper towels
» Styrofoam packaging and trays
» Disposable cups for coffee, pop and fountain drinks
» Metallic juice and beverage pouches
» Glass that is not a food or beverage container such as ceramics, oven dishes and coffee mugs
» Shredded paper must be put in a clear plastic bag and tied closed to be recycled in your Blue Cart
» Housewares including ceramics, dishes and glasses, pots and pans, light bulbs, windows, mirrors and clothes hangers
» Strings, rope, wires and cables
» Garden hoses
» Christmas lights
» Construction material
» Hazardous waste such as household chemicals, motor oil, antifreeze, aerosol cans, batteries, lighters and paint cans
» Medical waste
» Diapers and personal hygiene products
» Food and kitchen waste
» Leaf and yard waste
There is a note on the website saying, “Many of these materials can be recycled or disposed of in other ways. Check with our online sorting tool, Waste Wizard, for items that may be recycled in other programs.“
- Winnipeg, Manitoba
Items prohibited in the Blue Cart:
» gift wrap
» plastic bags, cellophane
» plastics that are not a container (e.g., laundry baskets, toys, plastic cutlery)
» disposable coffee cups
» fast food containers
» aluminum foil, foil pie plates, foil food containers
» foam cups, foam food containers, foam egg cartons, foam meat trays
» foam packing materials
» paper towels, tissue
» mirrors, window glass, broken glass
» light bulbs, drinking glasses, ceramics, cookware
» steel pots and pans, scrap metal
» fabrics (e.g., shoes, clothes, bedding)
» sporting equipment
» construction materials (e.g., wood, hardware, stone)
» cords, wire, hoses
» organic materials (e.g., food, yard waste)
» compressed gas cans & cylinders (e.g. aerosol, propane)
There is a note on the website to look at the “What Goes Where?” search tool [Winnipeg] for disposal information. After searching further, it is revealed that styrofoam must be discarded (ie: thrown into landfill) and “Plastic bags can be recycled at some retail locations“. Otherwise, the instructions are to place them in garbage. (ie: landfill).
Items prohibited in the Blue Bin:
» biodegradable plastic containers and film (e.g. compostable plastic bags)
» any type of black coloured plastic
» laminated plastic film (e.g. chip bags and stand-up resealable pouch bags)
» snack food bags (potato chips, peanuts, cookies)
» foil gift wrap
» aluminum foil
» coffee pods – both regular and compostable (e.g. Keurig, Tassimo)
» paper that is soiled or wax-coated
» meat wrapping paper (butchers paper) should be placed in the garbage bin
» Plastic pre-packaging for meat and cheese (plastic is not soft, stretchy)
» Household cling wrap (is made of PVC – poly vinyl chloride, which is not a recyclable product)
» cellophane (e.g. gift basket wrap)
» cereal liners
» pool covers
» shower liners
» boat wrap
» plastic bubble wrap
» candy bar wrappers
» waxed cardboard (must be placed in garbage)
» paper items that are wax coated (many frozen food boxes) or soiled with food (e.g. paper towels/tissues, coffee filters, sugar/flour bags, etc.) belong in the green bin.
» other items that should be placed in the green bin are soiled paper fast food wrapping (no foil), paper plates & ice cream boxes
Note that according to CTV News (June 2015) the following plastic IS allowed in Toronto’s blue bin:
» milk bags (inner pouches and outer bag)
» bread bags (non-foil)
» sandwich bags (e.g. resealable type bags)
» bulk food bags
» produce bags
» dry cleaning bags
» newspaper/flyer bags
» diaper and feminine hygiene outer bag
» frozen fruit bags and vegetable bags
» transparent recycling bags
» over-wrap from toilet paper, napkins, paper towels, water and soft drink packaging
» garden soil, manure or compost bags
» road salt bags
- Quebec City, Quebec
» motor oil containers
» PVC blinds
» pool covers and garden hoses
The instructions for plastiques récupérés say: “Sacs et pellicules de plastique (incluant le papier-bulle) doivent être déposés dans un seul sac bien attaché (sac de sacs)”
I don’t know why I’m surprised, but as far as I can see, there is no English page with this information. The English portion of the website simply states “The French version of this section is a more exhaustive resource.” I can only hope that anyone living in Quebec City can speak and/or read French fluently….
- Fredericton, New Brunswick
The following cannot be included in the grey or blue box:
» Glass bottles and jars
» Thermal fax paper
» Carbon paper
» Waxed paper
Allowed in the blue box are plastic containers (Types 1 to 7) and plastic grocery bags. There is no mention of plastic wrap.
- Halifax, Nova Scotia
Styrofoam is not recyclable and goes in the garbage. The following items ARE recyclable in Halifax:
» all plastic bags including:
»» dry cleaning
»» frozen food
»» bubble wrap
- Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
The city’s website states, “If recyclable material is not clean & dry it may be rejected at curb“. There is no handy comprehensive list showing what is disallowed. But looking at the not-particularly handy Interactive guide, the following are NON-RECYCLABLE PLASTICS in Charlottetown.
» plastic corks, plastic hose, gasoline containers,
» Plastics with – #6, #7 OR NO NUMBER
Related Words: plastic bags (ie: dry cleaning bags, bread bags, grocery bags, shopping bags, freezer bags, sandwich bags, baggies, ziploc / ziplock bags, garbage bags, etc.), bubble packaging, bubble wrap, chip bags, cling wrap, shrink wrap, stretch wrap, saran wrap, plastic labels, boxed wine plastic liner, coffee creamers, drinking straws, plastic covers, plastic bottles, plastic containers, plastic lids, plastic drop sheets, padded envelopes, pvc window blinds, dog food bags (with plastic liner), cd, dvd, cd cases, dvd cases, vhs tapes, video tapes, video games, floppy disks, cellophane, plastic streamers, plastic or foil candy wrappers, plastic stir sticks, plastic coated paper clips, plastic water softener tanks, softener tanks, water softner tanks, safety helmets, hockey helmets, hard hats, small plastic toys, plastic fans, k cups, k-cups, kcups, keurig cups, coffee maker, booster seat
- St. John’s, Newfoundland
The following should NOT be placed in curbside recycling:
» Glass bottles & jars
» Aerosol cans
» Plastic bags
» Plastic wrap, saran wrap
» Propane tanks
» CD, DVD, electronic game cases
» Full or unopened food containers
» Paint cans
» Toys (plastic, wood, metal)
» Kitty Litter
» Laundry Baskets & Hampers
» Pots & Pans
» Needles and other sharps
» Car parts
» Keurig cups & Tassimo discs
- Yellowknife, North West Territories
Yellowknife has a Green Cart for organic waste, but on the city website, if they search, residents are instructed to put many types of plastics (straws, cups, plates) into the garbage (ie: landfill). However, “all types of empty ready-to-serve beverage containers including water, juice, milk and liquid milk products, soft drinks, energy drinks, and alcohol beverage containers” are accepted for recycling at The Bottle Shop, where it appears a refund may be given. Glass jars (but NOT plastic) are accepted for recycling at Blue Bin Recycling Stations. There is a 25cent charge for single use plastic bags in the NWT.
- Whitehorse, Yukon
For curbside pickup, as long as it is in the “container” blue bin, Whitehorse accepts
» Plastic bottles
» Plastics #1 – #7
» All beverage containers
» Milk jugs and milk cartons
» Tetra Paks
» Yoghurt containers
The FAQ section on Whitehorse municipal website says “Failure to adequately rinse containers may result in the material being refused at curb“.
It appears that there is NO plastics recycling set up in Iqaluit at all, but residents are asked to separate “all uncoated cardboard from their household waste by tying it separately, or placing it in a clear blue bag. These will be collected separately from regular waste. Eventually, it will be safely burned and then composted“. Additionally, “all household garbage is required to be placed in large garbage bags and not placed into garbage bins in small white plastic grocery bags“.
And there it is. Again, I say: shame on us.
The future of all life now depends on us.
– David Attenborough, Blue Planet II