At Issue: Recycling in Ottawa

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From guest blogger Nicholas Schmidtke, BA Philosophy, Ethics and Public Affairs, who lives in Ottawa

The other day I was leaving a fast food joint with some friends when I noticed one of them was about to throw a plastic water bottle in the trash instead of the recycling bin. When I asked him to use the recycling bin, he asked why, and I realized that I didn’t have a complete enough answer to give him. Having now given the issue some thought, I have prepared a couple of reasons to recycle.

Reason no. 1:

The less we recycle, the more we have to put into landfill sites, which take up valuable green-space for years to come. According to the city of Ottawa website, “Ottawa residents generate approximately 330,000 tonnes of waste each year, much of it recyclable. This is equal to filling Scotiabank Place 160 times each year with garbage.”

The Trail Road site currently has enough capacity to last for the next 10 to 40 years, depending on the amount of waste diverted through recycling and other programs.  The following numbers reflect the growth and projected growth of the Trail Road landfill site from 1980 to 2005 (from the Peace and Environment Resource Centre website):

  • 25 hectares (the size of Dow’s Lake) received waste from 1980 until 1986
  • 16 hectares (a little larger than Parliament Hill) received waste from 1986 until 1991
  • 14 hectares (19 football fields) was opened in 1991 and was expected to be filled by the late 1990s.
  • 12 hectares was expected to be opened in the late 1990s and filled by 2005

These numbers may seem insignificant when taking into account the amount of space we have in Canada. However, when looking at ways to reduce our ecological footprint, every bit helps, and reducing our need for landfill space is an easy reduction.

Reason no. 2:
Habitat loss due to the harvesting of natural resources is a major factor in the worldwide disappearance of species, not to mention that denuded landscapes make for poor aesthetics. By recycling, we reduce our need for the harvesting of primary resources such as trees, metals and oil, thereby keeping more wild-lands intact. According to the City, “aluminum, steel and some types of glass can be recycled indefinitely. Today most car parts, t-shirts, parkas, sleeping bags, home insulation, garden furniture, playground equipment, CDs, and more are made from recycled materials!”

It would be a stretch to say that we can live without mining and other forms of harvest, but given the current state of technology there is a lot we can do to reduce these activities simply by taking the time to put our waste in the appropriate container.

See the City’s website for a list of everything accepted for recycling:

Nick can be contacted at: nick_s._001 at hotmail dot com

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7 thoughts on “At Issue: Recycling in Ottawa

  • Hello, Recycling in Ottawa is very hard to accomplish successfully. The people who pick-up the recycling are real *&$%#@!. In our family we recycle everything! I take great pride in this:) I rinse glass and plastic, even wipe of the aluminum foil first. I do everything by the book. Because we live on a blvd people pass by and will sometimes throw a kleenex in the glass, well the guys will not pick-up the box! I kid you not sometimes I had to examine the box to figure out why they didn’t take it and would then see that one little piece of kleenex!!! My other complaint is that they brake all the boxes by throwing them up in the air so that they smash onto the pave! I went to Can.Tire and bought the nice big bins with wheel to handle the large amount of recycling (instead of replacing the little broken boxes again). Well they broke my nice bins and I meen in pieces. They are now held together with duck tape!! I now stand outside at the curb with my recycling and my neighbors recycling whilst it’s being picked up. They, the guys, always make nasty comments about our recycling acting like I’m not there. They will curse and complain that the jars of my neighbor isn’t clean or that the bin is to full ect. They use to leave anything they dropped on the road, but pick it up when I’m out there. They recycling people are really hard to deal with and most people have just stopped altogether on our route. You can drive on the sreet recycling day and not even see a box out for several houses at a time.

  • Hi Gina,

    Recycling in your neighbourhood sounds like a hassle! It isn’t like that everywhere in the city… you might want to consider calling the municipality’s 3-1-1 number and giving them some feedback about the problems you’ve been having. Grumpy workers nonetheless, I do have some sympathy for the people who do recycling: they work very hard at a fairly thankless job. Due perhaps to the company trying to cut costs, what used to be a 2 person job is now done by just one worker, who drives the truck and empties the bins. They are pushed to work very quickly, which is probably the cause of their tossing the recycle bins (and breaking them!)

  • Dear Sarah,
    Yes the recycling job is probably thankless, but what job isn’t these days. Also they are two per truck here, one drives with the windows down and the music blasting for the guy in the back picking up the recycling (it’s really quite something). I have called 311 when the first bins were broken, now it’s not worth it as the only thing they can do is replace the bins if they are the old ones…and I bought the nice tall one. There was no change in the service after the complain. On the bright side the Garbage guys are great. Always curtious, and I have had the same bins for 13years!!!! They are still in perfect condition (they are never thrown around).
    I would never discurage anyone from being “green” and it is very important to me and my family. However I couldn’t pass-up the opportunity to express my vue on the recycling collectors.

  • Who picks up your recycling, Gina? Is it WMS? If so, can’t you complain directly to them? After all, they are the ones who employ these jerks. Could you get other people in your neighbourhood to report the same kinds of problems as you are having?

    Another thing you could do is e-mail your councillor (you can do this via the ottawa.ca. website) and ask him/her to investigate. I live east-end, and I can tell you that the councillors at my end are really prompt and helpful when you e-mail. They will probably pass you directly to the waste manaagement department, but they are helpful, too.

  • Hi Gina,
    You can do even more than email your councillor – you can get your bluebins replaced if you bring in your broken ones to Rona. Details of how to do that are on the Ottawa website. (it doesn’t justify breaking them and replacing them though)

    I watched the CBC Documentary on Plastic that was on a month ago, and I learned two shocking things.

    1. Half of the plastic items I was washing and putting into the bluebins are not recycled by municipalities. In fact, very few plastic things are actually recycled by Ottawa.

    2. If the recycling sorters (both manual and machine) miss something and the wrong item gets into the wrong pile to be shipped out/sold and ultimately recylcled, the entire bale of flattened bottles (for example) is thrown out for being “contaminated”.

    So I understand a bit more why the recycling guys are picky about what they pick up.

    The other thing I found is that sometimes my recycling didn’t get picked up because it was behind a car, or “hidden” by a garbage can, or whatever. There really wasn’t a reason I could discern.

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