It's often confusing sorting out exactly which types of cardboard, plastic, glass and metal can and can't be recycled at the curb. Sudburian Fred Teolis found that out when he tried to recycle steel pipes.
“I thought it was recyclable,” Teolis wrote in a letter to Northern Life. “Cut out of a part of the steel door filled with foam I thought maybe it can be recycled ... It appears that neither the garbage collector nor the recycle collector wants it, so what do I do with it?”
Renee Brownlee, the city's supervisor of collection and recycling, said answers to those sorts of questions can be found on the city's website, or by calling 311, the city's central line for questions about all municipal services.
“We can let them know what is and isn't recyclable,” Brownlee said, standing just outside the main recycling depot, located just off Falconbridge Road on Frobisher Street. “It's not a huge, huge problem, but it can happen.”
In fact, Brownlee said, just a tiny percentage of the 20,000 tonnes of material recycled at the Frobisher depot every year is rejected and ends up in the landfill instead. The city has been recycling for decades, and more recently started a home composting and other waste diversion programs.
In addition to being good for the environment, waste diversion efforts significantly extend the life of municipal landfills, which are expensive to run, complicated to open and extremely unpopular with residents.
In 2003, city staff set a goal to significantly reduce the amount of garbage being dumped in the landfill, aiming to divert 65 per cent into recycling and other programs. The amount has increased to more than 40 per cent from 15 per cent, thanks to the new waste diversion programs and public education.
One of Sudbury's landfills, located on The Kingsway, has a capacity of almost 7.8 million square kilometres. Smaller sites operate in Azilda and Chelmsford. Each have about 20 years remaining before they must be closed. But the goal is to increase diversion rates to the point that the need for a new landfill is delayed indefinitely.
Key to that process is getting more people to recycle, and to know how to handle different products. Brownlee said the blue box program is mainly for recycling packaging material, and offers a simple rule of thumb.
“If you purchased it, and there's nothing in it, then it's not recyclable in the blue box program,” she said.
“I can give you an example – a plastic juice drinking glass is not recyclable. When you purchased it, there was nothing in it, right? It was just an empty vessel. Whereas if you buy a tub of margarine, there's margarine in it, that would be recyclable.”
One of the more surprising items that can't be recycled in the blue box are takeout coffee cups. Brownlee said there are too many different products in the cardboard.
“Basically, the material it's made out of is not something that the paper markets want,” she said. “It's very inked, and there's a gummy type material that coats the cup. When it goes through the paper mills, those types of materials gum up the equipment (and) causes them to break down.”
However, the cups can be put into composters, she said, adding that “the lid is recyclable.”
Another common question are the juice containers many kids use in their school lunches, Brownlee said.
“Juice boxes are recyclable, but foil juice pouches are not,” she said. “It's because they're made out of different types of materials – plastic mixed with aluminium, and the markets simply don't have the capability to separate those materials.”
Trucks arriving at the Frobisher centre unload the materials onto the main floor, which are then scooped onto a conveyor belt and separated. Staff remove any obvious garbage and make sure nothing is in a plastic bag. Then the items are mechanically separated, and staff breaks them down further – separating different types of plastic, for example – before it's bundled and shipped to markets.
“And the markets can be anywhere in the world,” Brownlee said. “From Southern Ontario to as far away as China.”
Sudburians are enthusiastic about recycling, she said, with between 95 and 98 per cent of residents participating.
“We're doing a really great job,” Brownlee said.
She said steel and aluminium are the most valuable materials, with good demand for certain types of paper, too.
Anyone looking to increase their capacity for recycling can buy themselves a “big blue” recycling bin on Saturday. The barrel-sized containers -- the ones that have lids on them – will be for sale at the Frobisher depot for $17 including tax.
And for detailed information on the city's recycling and waste diversion efforts, go to greatersudbury.ca/living/garbage-and-recycling/.