Today, readers are responding to a Globe investigation on the changing world of recycling, both in Canada and internationally. For decades, Canadians have tossed their recyclables into blue bins and never looked back. But with China cutting its imports of scrap plastic by 96 per cent, Canada’s recycling industry is struggling.
We need strict and realistic regulations on packaging. If it can't be recycled, in Canada, then it shouldn't be used in packaging unless there's a very, very good reason for it. Many items that we purchase have a higher value of packaging than the value of the contents. We are drowning in plastic!
As governments increasingly consider Extended Producer Responsibility, they should press the countries that produce the plastic to reduce the use, make the plastic they produce easily recyclable, and take back an equivalent volume to the amount they export as goods or in packaging. Although China and other countries are now balking at taking plastic recyclables, they are happy to make the plastic goods in the first place, package them in more plastic, and ship them to developed countries. According to the National Geographic: “Half the world’s plastics are made in Asia. The lion’s share of that— 29 per cent—is made in China, home to 18 percent of the world’s population.” As consumers, we have the power to start rejecting many plastic goods, over-packaged products, and products in packaging that is difficult to recycle. Some baby steps: Use bar soap instead of liquid hand and shower/bath soap to eliminate bottles. Carry small folding nylon bags in your pocket in case you buy something while being out. Use glass containers instead of zip-locks. Reject food in back plastic containers.
People have become very used to consequence-free convenience. But with pushback from developing countries, we no longer have an easy means to throw non-recyclable plastics "away". Clearly, the use of non-recyclable packaging materials must be banned, with any additional costs distributed through the supply chain. Reusable or recyclable containers are less convenient because they must be properly washed prior to being discarded. Too bad. It must be done. A strict green regime of container handling will be good for us as well as for the environment. It will instill consideration and discipline in a population that has become lazy and entitled.
High time to invest in incineration plants for energy production instead of burying garbage.
M. Kalus in response:
Burning plastic is pretty toxic. You can use scrubbers to get most of that but it’s still not an ideal solution. Besides the old adage is: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We need to concentrate more on the first.
Something has to be done. You go to the grocery store and they are selling all of their precooked food in clear and black plastic. They have display cases full of it with chicken, salad, you name it. The only way it is going to stop is if it becomes prohibitively expensive. Put a tax on those plastics of 20,000 percent and use will stop by tomorrow night.
Household recycling is such an economically marginal operation that even minor issues can make it impractical. (Let alone the sense of shipping low-value waste halfway around the world for recycling or disposal.) Easily half of the blue boxes I walk by on pickup days have some non recyclable material in them - unwashed jars and cans with food residue, foil and styrofoam and thin-film plastic, random metal and mystery plastics, and just plain garbage. Fixing on a range of standardized shapes and sizes of bottles, jars and cartons, made from a limited number of materials - clear glass, white or clear plastic of one or two types (maybe HDPE and LDPE), steel or aluminum cans with easily removable labels, cardboard without plastic windows, etc. would go some way to making single use packaging more practical to recycle. Marketers can figure out how to deal with these constraints. And if collectors simply refused to load blue boxes containing any ineligible content, people would eventually learn to keep it out of the recycling stream.
Bob Loblaw in response:
Mark, here in Nova Scotia or my part of it at least, we have pretty strict recycling rules that are enforced at the point of pick up. Any bag of recycling that doesn't pass a visual inspection is tagged and left curbside. The diligent members of society will re-sort the bag and correct it for pick up in two weeks time. The less diligent will just put the recycling bag in with the regular garbage or worst case, drive it out a country road and fling it into a ditch because they can't be bothered. Awful I know but it is human nature. We are different degrees of lazy. The more strict we make the rules, the less compliance we will see unfortunately.
Hudsonthedog also in response:
Which is why the rules need to be at the level of producers as well as consumers. If companies like Unilever are the ones producing this mess, it shouldn't be up to taxpayers (and future generations) to deal with it. But at present there is a huge disincentive for any one company to act ethically--because the unethical one with the bigger/cheaper packaging will have a clear marketing advantage. If all companies have to play by the same rules--and take responsibility for the full lifespan crap they are producing--everybody wins.
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