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Monday, 10 October 2011

Understanding the complex world of recycling

Last week the Zero Waste Education Program visited Ms. Allen's grade 4 class at Spring Creek School in Whistler. Ms. Allen's class sorts the recycling for the whole school. As the school recyclers the students were fascinated to learn how the complex world of recycling works.

Often re-usable or recyclable waste is ending up at local landfills. As students learn in the Zero Waste Workshop, the Squamish Landfill (that serves the whole region except Whistler, Goldbridge, and Lillooet) is expanding because there isn't enough room for the growing pile of garbage. At a cost of $2 million, an area the size of two soccer official soccer fields will soon be the new rotting place for regional waste. At the current rate of disposal in only five years the new landfill space in Squamish will be filled with 20m tall pile of garbage. As outlined in this Loop Scoop video, there is a great need to sort, divert, re-use, and recycle waste:

Reducing your waste is the first and most important action that each of us can take - ask yourself do you really need so much stuff? Re-using, and creatively re-purposing waste is another important step on the road to zero waste. After using less, and re-using more, a third step on the zero waste pathway is recycling. Learning what, and how to recycle products however isn't easy - the rules change from town to town, and from one year to the next.  

Did you know that the  triangles on the bottom of plastic containers doesn't mean that it is necessarily recyclable?
It is a sorting code that indicates what type of plastic it is. Not all types of plastic are recyclable in all areas, it all depends on the market for recycled plastic. Your waste service provider (i.e. Carney's) collects, and sells types of plastic to private industries who recycle it into new products. If there isn't a demand for a given type of plastic, it is not recyclable. Demand varies based on the market, and therefore what we can recycle is also subject to change.  

Did you know that even if you recycle plastic it can still end up in the landfill?

Plastics 1 (e.g. dish detergent container) and 2 (e.g. water bottles) are processed for recycling in British Columbia. If the plastic is dirty (i.e. food resin) it will be thrown out. Plastics 1 and 2 that are recycled are broken down and made into non-food related products. This means that there is limited uses for recycled plastics, and any overflow of plastic will be sent to the landfill. Plastics 3-7 are shipped overseas for processing, and the amount that is used vs. thrown out is unknown. In Whistler plastics 1-7 are collected, in the rest of the region plastic 1-5 are collected. While it is very important to clean and recycle plastic, considering not all plastic gets recycled, it is more important to reduce your use of plastic.

Did you know that excess plastic is forming giant waste islands?
As unwanted plastic finds it home in our worlds landfills, the natural flow of our planets water is picking up pieces of plastic, and ocean currents are driving these pieces of plastic to converge on shores, and plastic islands. Check out this photo of the plastic island that exists between Hawaii and California, and is double the size of the state of Texas.

To avoid plastic islands, and expanding landfills we need to first reduce our waste, we need to think of new and creative ways to re-purpose our waste, and we need to divert, sort, and recycle any waste that is produced. For more information on the complex world of recycling check out the Recycling Council of BC website where you can search by item if, and where recycled items are accepted for any town in British Columbia.

This week the Zero Waste Program is heading to Pemberton to talk trash with Ms. Ross's grade 4 class, and Ms. Neit's 4/5 class at Signal Hill Elementary. Also results from the garbage free lunch challenge are starting to come in. Ms. Carsons Class at Mamquam Elementary went from 34 pieces of lunch waste, down to 10 pieces of lunch waste, and are now entered to win a classroom worm composter!


  1. Are you bringing this to Brackendale Elementary?

  2. Recycling helps the earth because it could save animals, it could save birds, puppies and all kinds of them. A lot of the animals that recycling helps to save are the ocean animals. There are a lot of animals in the ocean that mistake trash for food. They're eating things that we could be recycling. Check out this video: