GTA

Bringing purity to Toronto’s blue bins

Toby Whitfield is such a blue-bin stickler that his wife says his “favourite piece of literature” is the city of Toronto calendar listing what can and cannot be recycled.

The Harbord Village resident fishes out offending items placed by others. But even Whitfield admits to occasional confusion over the long list that says, for example, “soft, stretchy” plastic like bread bags belongs in the bin while stiff, crinkly wrap from sandwich meat is garbage.

Then there are items including black plastic food trays and single-use coffee pods marked recyclable, sometimes aggressively so, but not on Toronto’s list — so they get sent to landfill.

Whitfield is far from alone. Even Jim McKay, the city official in charge of recycling, admits: “It’s becoming complicated for a resident to understand what is recyclable and what isn’t.”

The blue bin is many residents’ primary environmental contribution. A steady rise in the “contamination” rate — how much verboten material goes in the bin — is in the city hall spotlight because it is combining with other factors to dramatically reduce Toronto’s recycling revenues.

Those factors — including China and other nations banning imports of low-quality recyclables, and manufacturers here using all manner of new packaging — are hitting municipalities across Ontario and beyond, sending them scrambling for solutions including better education of homeowners.

In the “audit” room of the sprawling North York site of Canada Fibers Ltd., where much of Toronto’s blue bin contents lands, a brown bin holds contaminants. There are balls of hair, chip bags, straws, cereal bag liners and cardboard so dirty it must have been outside for a long time.

Torontonians also try to recycle bowling balls, VHS tapes, clothes, containers with enough food in them to contaminate paper and other bin contents and, recently, a mannequin head.

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