By Philippe Edde
Have you ever stared at a piece of packaging, trying to decipher whether it's recyclable? Maybe you believe that you just need to look for that little recycling symbol on packaging to figure it out. We've all been there.
But guess what? That symbol only tells you what kind of plastic a product is made of, not whether it's actually recyclable.
To make matters worse, different cities have different recycling rules, turning this puzzle into a real head-scratcher. In Toronto, black plastic is one of the biggest culprits of this confusion.
Black plastics: The black sheep
Remember those black plastic takeout containers many of us received a million of while ordering food during the pandemic? Well, in Toronto, those containers and pretty much any black plastic are a recycling no-no.
The recycling plants in Toronto employ near infra-red technology to sort plastic, but here's the catch: black plastic, often colored using carbon black pigments, cannot be detected by this technology, making it unrecyclable.
What's worse is that black plastics often end up covering other recyclable plastics, leading to further recycling contamination and a real recycling nightmare. Nearly one third of what is thrown in the blue recycling bins in Toronto is not recyclable, and it's estimated that reducing recycling contamination by even 1% could save Toronto up to $1 million a year!
Here's the mind-boggling part: just a short distance away—a mere 45 km—the Peel region happily recycles black plastic. Their optical sorting technology easily handles these troublesome plastics. The discrepancy between these neighbouring regions of the GTA adds confusion to the recycling process, potentially resulting in contamination and the disposal of recyclable materials in landfills or incinerators.
Solving the riddle
So what can be done to fix this chaotic recycling landscape?
One solution is to implement consistent plastic-sorting technology across all regions. By aligning these recycling systems, we can eliminate confusion and ensure uniformity in recyclability. In other words, if you know how to recycle in Toronto, you should know how to recycle in Peel, Scarborough, and anywhere else in Ontario. Of course, this transformation will take time and effort, as it will require major changes to Ontario’s plastic sorting and recycling facilities.
Education is another crucial piece of the puzzle. Clear signage above recycling bins can offer guidance about what to throw in each bin, minimizing contamination risks. In fact, the city of Toronto recognizes this and has developed an app that provides detailed recycling information for over 2,500 materials, making it easier than ever to navigate the recycling maze. You can find that app here.
Embracing the opportunity
Living in Toronto and don't want to drive up to Peel just to recycle your black plastic? Fear not! Case, a Toronto-based entrepreneurial company, has got your back. It takes charge of your black plastic takeout containers, ensuring that they find a new life.
First, Case sanitizes and evaluates each container. The ones in good condition are sent back to takeout restaurants for reuse. However, the containers that are a little too banged up are delivered to the company's trusted recycling partners, where they are transformed into pellets and efficiently recycled.
Case works with both offices and condos, so if you have a lot of black plastic stacking up, contact your condo board or talk to your human resources department to get a bin set up.
The steps we can take
Recycling doesn't have to be a mind-bending mystery. By implementing systemic changes, educating the public, and embracing innovative solutions like Case, we can unravel Toronto’s black plastic problem and create a cleaner, more sustainable future.
From advocating for increased recycling-related education and improved recycling infrastructure to promoting existing tools, such as Toronto’s Waste Wizard, and even taking the problem into our own hands with Case, there are many little things we can do to create a more sustainable Toronto.
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