Recycling starts at the point of purchase
PHOTO COURTESY SHUTTERSTOCK
Plastic recycling rules to remember – if a plastic bag doesn’t have a degree of stretch to it, it should not be placed in recycling and while Styrofoam and polystyrene products (Number 6 logo) shouldn’t be placed in the blue bin, you can drop it off at an ecocentre where it will be used to make urban furniture, among other things.
Recycling is a big part of going green and while just about everything can be reduced, reused, or recycled (the three R’s of recycling), certain materials come to mind more readily when pollution and irresponsible consumerism come up – namely plastic under all its forms.
Plastic is an easy usual suspect. A single day doesn’t go by without seeing a dirty, flattened plastic water bottle by the roadside, videos of a suffocating bird caught up in beer can 6-pack rings or gruesome pictures of a sea animals’ innards filled with plastic trash.
According to Gregory Pratte of Tricentris, the sorting center for everything we put in our recycling bin in Vaudreuil-Soulanges, plastic accounts for approximately 14 per cent of all materials they receive. Tricentris processes one out of three recycling bins picked up in the province every week. Over 220,000 tons of recycled materials are processed at their three centres.
“We talk a lot about plastic, but it’s not the most plentiful material put in the recycling bins,” Pratte explains. Paper and cardboard represent the lion’s share of what is to be found in the bins.
What’s the right number?
There is a certain confusion regarding which plastics can be recycled. Some people will even say that plastic has to “have the right number” for it to be recycled. So, many consumers who put their plastic waste in recycling bins might feel that it’s destined to end up as landfill.
Plastics come into two categories (when it comes to recycling) according to Pratte. “There are the containers, and the packaging components,” Pratte explains. Packaging components are the easiest ones to sort when it comes to deciding which bin to put them into. “The membrane must stretch easily when you push your thumb into it,” Pratt says of the plastic packaging components that can be recycled. Therefore, an empty pasta bag cannot be recycled; an empty hamburger bun bag can.
When it comes to a container (ex. Yogurt, margarine, etc.) , it must be stamped with a Mobius Loop (that funny little triangle made up of curving arrows). At the center of the Mobius Loop, there needs to be a number, either 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 7, for the plastic container to be recyclable.
What to do with polystyrene
Number 6 corresponds to polystyrene (ex. Styrofoam) which cannot be placed in the recycling bin. However, it does not mean it should be thrown away in the garbage. The Vaudreuil-Soulanges ecocentres accept polystyrene. “This type of plastic is reused to make urban furniture, among other things,” Pratte explains. Residents are therefore encouraged to bring their Number 6 plastics to local ecocentres. The Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC, in cooperation with Tricentris, maintains a website where you can find out more about the services offered by the local ecocentres, and the materials you can drop off there, including a very handy online tool where you can type a description of any material and a map showing the ecocentres that accept that material will appear on the screen. Using that map, and by entering Polystyrene, we find out that all four ecocentres in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges territory accept the material. You can access this online tool at tricycle-mrcvs.ca.
“Everything can be recycled,” Pratte adds. “It’s merely a question of markets.” On that topic, if you favour recycling and encouraging local business, Pratte stresses it is important to purchase locally.
Pratt warns, however, that the Mobius Loop can be misleading in some cases. “Even if there is a Mobius Loop with a number on the packaging it can merely be greenwashing,” he says. “I’ve seen potato bags recently that had a Mobius Loop with number 5, but the packaging could not be stretched.” There is no regulation controlling the usage of the Mobius Loop, which is one of recycling’s main issues at the moment.
On top of the possibility of recycling, Pratt recommends reducing our consumption of plastics, especially products packaged in plastics that can be used only once, such as individually wrapped cookies.
Purchasing products made from recycled plastic is also recommended practice. Patio furniture and accessories made out of recycled plastics are a good choice not only for their durability and reduced maintenance, but also because of their recycled sourcing. The main problem is demand. “If people don’t buy planks made out of recycled plastic, don’t be surprised if the offer is not there,” Pratte says. Recycled materials not purchased locally will also be redirected abroad, in Asia and elsewhere.
Pratte feels more and more people are recycling. “We'd like to see more,” he stresses. Awareness building remains key. Tricentris maintains a Facebook page where residents can ask questions and find out more on how to improve their recycling activities. You can visit the page at www.facebook.com/tricentris.