We can recycle nearly everything. We still need to buy less stuff.
THE RECYCLING PRIMER I STARTED in the last issue of of Focus continues here, just in time for the festive season, when the garbage bin with its wide-open maw is all too easily mustered for clean-up after jolly holiday times. Last time I synopsized the recycling industry in BC and examined the journeys and destinations of our Blue Box contents; this time, I’ll explore what else can be recycled, and how and in what form some of these materials resurface.
What quickly becomes obvious is that most of what once was garbage no longer is. Indeed, the old garbage bin could well get lonely in our parts. The BC recycling industry is growing exponentially, intently mining our urban landscape for used or “recovered” resources. Just about every castoff can now be turned in for transformation into new and valuable goods. There’s a cost involved, of course, but it’s far less than the monetary and environmental costs of new products made of virgin resources. Add to that the heavy financial and carbon footprints of unfettered garbage collection and storage, and you begin to see at least some sustainability in recycling.
Trying to feature every recyclable item in this short piece would be like trying to play cards with an entire deck fanned out in one hand. Suffice it to say that the CRD’s online My Recyclopedia is your roadmap for steering everything, from aerosol containers to zinc, away from the landfill.
Here’s what happens to some of these commodities: The old tires your dealer recycles for you go to Delta—either to Lehigh Northwest Cement as a fuel supplement, or to Western Rubber Products for grinding into crumb rubber for flooring, etc. (Our roof was made in Calgary out of about 500 tires. Even up close it looks like old-growth cedar. The 50-year warranty is nice too.)
Used motor oil is rejuvenated for a third of the energy required to refine new product. Oil filters go to steel mills to become rebar, nails or wire. Oil containers become plastic flower pots, pipes, furniture and more.
Crushed mirrors, glass panes and ceramic dishes become aggregate for asphalt. (Toilets once did too, but currently seem to be going to the landfill.) Mattresses are dismantled and mostly recycled. Leftover paint is processed in BC for reuse. Latex paints are sorted by colour and made into new paint or used as a binding agent in concrete. Mills in Alberta accept oil-based paint for use as a fuel blending agent. Steel propane tanks are depressurized and then refined into new metal products.
Wood waste is sent to various customers who use it for fuel, instead of oil and gas. Batteries of all kinds are locally collected for Call2Recycle, which sends them to sorters and processors in Canada and the US where they are separated into raw materials for making new batteries, stainless steel and cement.
Retailers are becoming proactive as well. London Drugs will take back much of what it sells, including all Styrofoam packaging. This goes to Coquitlam where it is compressed—65 truckloads in equals one truckload out—and shipped to South Korea for remanufacturing.
H&M wants your old and tattered fabric, which is shredded for many new uses, including insulation.
And then there are the refundable drink containers. Nine thousand tonnes were collected in the CRD last year—an average of 218 containers per resident. The aluminum was shipped to the US for processing into new cans. The plastics were pelletized for new product at Merlin Plastics in Delta. Glass went to a bottle-making facility in Seattle, and the remaining assortment mostly went to international markets not including China.
It’s clear that we’re diverting a tremendous motherlode from the landfill, and while that’s great progress, it’s still not enough. We cannot simply recycle our way back to sustainability and environmental wellness. Frenetic buying, using, and now recycling must inevitably give way to something more enduring—sparser and more deliberate consumerism. The challenge will be to find security and contentment in buying less, repairing more, reusing and repurposing. The coming festive season could be timely for rethinking how we might begin doing this.
However you plan to celebrate the holidays, may you find yourself with everything you need. May it be your cup of happiness that runneth over—not your garbage, food waste and recycling bins.
After finishing this article Trudy dashed down to a Repair Cafe in Fairfield to have an old crock repaired. The cafes are offered every few months. Go to www.repaircafevicbc.ca for details.