Throwing an item in the recycling gives most people that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you feel like you’re helping.
You’ve just diverted another item from the landfill, done your part to help save the environment.
But maybe not.
Gary Franssen, the City of Nanaimo’s manager of sanitation, recycling and cemeteries, said sometimes items end up in the recycling bags that don’t belong there.
“We’ve found dirty diapers in there and various other things that shouldn’t be there,” he said. “It takes time at the curb to deal with, time at the plant to deal with. Time is money.”
An audit conducted in May indicated about three per cent of items thrown in city recycling bags actually should have gone in the garbage.
The top three problem items are glass, styrofoam and film plastic, such as saran wrap and some types of plastic bags, said Franssen.
Glass is a huge problem because it can shatter and if a bit of glass shows up in a paper recycling bin, the paper recycling company can refuse the entire load and then the whole thing goes to the landfill.
“Glass destroys the product,” he said. “You’ve paid to truck it across the pond. Now you’re going to pay to put it in a landfill as well.”
Jeff Ainge, the Regional District of Nanaimo’s zero waste coordinator, said the RDN stopped collecting glass last year, partly for that reason.
“Glass contaminates other products,” he said. “And there’s nowhere in B.C. that recycles it.”
The Nanaimo Recycling Exchange takes glass jars and ships them back to the RDN to use as drainage material in the landfill.
Previously, the glass was also ground up and used by construction companies as a road base, Ainge added.
Glass still ends up in RDN recycling bins, as well as styrofoam and plastic bags, which the RDN does not accept.
Plastic shopping bags from places like retail clothing stores is not supposed to go in city recycling bags, said Franssen.
The city only collects plastic grocery bags because others bags are often a different type of plastic, said Franssen, but that will be changing. Now even plastic grocery bags are not necessarily the type of plastic that the processing plant ships off to be recycled – stores are going with compostable, biodegradable and oxo-degradable bags.
“You can’t separate it out,” said Franssen.
People should also toss spray nozzles, metal bottle lids, or anything that’s had a hazardous product in it in the garbage.
Anything soiled with food does not belong in the blue and yellow bags either, but Franssen said these items, such as pizza boxes and paper milk cartons, can go in the green bins.
About a third of the city already has green bins and the remaining households will join them in the fall.
When workers find an item in a recycling bag that is not supposed to be there, Franssen said they are directed to leave the item behind.
Collection staff with the RDN will also take the item out and stick a ‘compliance’ tag on it to make sure people know, added Ainge.
The city and the Regional District of Nanaimo take the recycling bins to BFI Canada Inc.’s Nanaimo processing plant, where it is sorted and then shipped to different areas to be recycled, some as far away as China, said Franssen.
But even taking into account that the materials are shipped sometimes far away, it is better than not recycling, he said.
“The cost of taking that aluminum can and recycling it into another aluminum can compared with finding it in the ground – there’s a benefit,” said Franssen. “You’re dealing with non-renewable resources. Once you throw these things away, they’re gone.”
While curbside collection programs take care of the bulk of everyday recycling needs, the Nanaimo Recycling Exchange takes care of the rest, said administrator Michael Schellinck.
The NRE takes more than 40 different products, including styrofoam, oil, fluorescent bulbs, film plastic, glass and ink cartridges.
“I’ve structured the NRE in a way that it compliments the curbside programs,” said Schellinck.
While the glass does end up in the landfill anyway, he said when people take it to the NRE, it is used in an application and if glass wasn’t used, the landfill would have to use another product instead.
For more information about what the city, RDN and NRE will recycle, please visit their websites at www.nanaimo.ca, www.rdn.bc.ca or www.recycling.bc.ca.