This Week in Canada: Recycling

Sue Spang, Class of ’07

There are a couple of things that Canada does not do as well as the United States. Cell phone and internet coverage and keeping the government intact jump to mind; additionally, let me assure you that “Project Runway: Canada” is a travesty. Still, despite its inability to recreate a fashion-mentoring team as compelling as Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum, Canada does have the upper hand in a lot of arenas; one of the most strikingly apparent programs in Ontario is a devotion to recycling and reduction of waste.
A visitor to Toronto might be struck immediately by the general lack of what we have come to think of as trash cans; instead of traditional cylinders filled with heaping waste, someone wishing to toss out a newspaper or coffee cup is greeted by gigantic silver boxes with four labeled depositories: Styrofoam, Mixed Paper, Bottles and Cans and Garbage. Furthermore, each section is labeled with the materials able to be recycled. Essentially, by shrinking the size of trash receptacles and accompanying them with recycling receptacles, the city has made it as easy to recycle as it is to throw materials away.
The City of Toronto has recently revitalized and expanded its residential recycling program in an effort to both streamline the recycling process and encourage more participation among residents of the city. In 2007, the City Council approved a plan called Target70, the main goal of which is to divert 70 percent of waste in the city to recycling centers instead.
Along with this plan has come significant action, such as implementing a standard system of garbage bin, blue bin and green bin for every Toronto-area household; the rolling totes, supplied by the City, encourage people to separate their waste into trash, recyclables and compost, respectively. The City simply doesn’t collect the waste materials of those households that choose not to follow the system.
On the University of Toronto campus, where waste is surely abundant, much care is taken to encourage recycling among students, faculty and staff. Blue bins and green bins are much more prominent than trash receptacles. In my residence, where waste disposal is split between four bins, a sign on the container labeled “Trash” admonishes, “PUT IN: Almost nothing. Almost everything can be recycled.” Even hotel rooms are outfitted with standard-sized recycle bins and tiny trash cans.
Late in 2008, Toronto’s continued interest in reducing waste was further demonstrated in a high-profile confrontation with a leading Canadian retail establishment: A tangle with coffee-and-donut giant Tim Horton’s occurred in November. Tim’s, as it is affectionately known, is a national chain with more prominence than Starbucks in the United States; I can think of at least five Tim Horton’s locations within a mile of where I’m sitting right now.
Tim Horton’s is responsible for around 80 percent of Canada’s retail coffee consumption, and, as would follow, somewhere around 365 million empty cups end up in landfills every year.
Citing the establishment as a significant source of trash production, the city required that Tim Horton’s either produce a totally recyclable cup – made of entirely paper, or entirely biodegradable Styrofoam – or stop distributing cups all together. So far, Tim Horton’s has agreed to comply, setting up recycling receptacles for cups and working on formulating cups that can be thrown, lid and all, into a blue bin.
These examples follow the trends toward recycling in Toronto, Ontario. Recycling is a provincial effort, meaning that across Canada, there are different rules and varying success rates – for example, the province of Manitoba is notoriously bad. Canada as a country has a lot of environmental issues to consider, among them vast natural resources that must be preserved. The survival of polar bears and other Northern wildlife is currently in the national spotlight.
As residents of the United States, it makes a lot of sense for us to pay a little more attention to Canada’s systems of preserving and recycling resources, particularly upon learning that Toronto sends the majority of its trash – around 441,000 tons in 2007 – to landfills in Michigan. Seriously.