The Ripple Effect: From China’s New President to Changing Recycling Bins on Campus

Julie Cook stands beside a recycling centre at the University of Ottawa

Incredible and unfortunate, but true: Canadians are the biggest producers of municipal waste per capita in the developed world, according to a study by the Conference Board of Canada.

This week is National Waste Reduction Week (from October 21st to 27th), and we’ll be making important changes to the recycling counters on campus — all 170 of them! — so that most of them will have 4 categories:
  • Metal, Plastic, Glass 
  • Mixed Paper
  • Compost 
  • Garbage. 

Our aim is to divert as much waste from landfill as possible while at the same time encouraging better recycling and composting practices among students and staff. Last year we composted 70 tons of organic material through the University’s industrial composter. Hopefully, adding compost options to more of the recycling counters will increase that number quite a bit.

Besides ensuring that many more recycling counters have compost options, the yellow signs that say “all plastics” will be changed to read “metal, plastic and glass”. This might seem like a step backwards, but in fact, the company that picks up the recycling mixes those types of recyclables anyway, which is consistent with what the City of Ottawa and Gatineau do municipally.

But why aren’t we recycling all plastics anymore?
Well, it’s a bit complicated. First of all, there’s been a shift in world plastics markets. From February to November 2013, China’s new president, Xi Jinping, is implementing what is known as the Green Fence Operation, which puts tougher restrictions on global imports of solid waste, especially plastics. Dirty and contaminated plastics, as well as some lower grade plastics materials, are no longer accepted at customs.

This has impacted the University’s ability to send all plastics (numbers 1 through 7) to Canadian recycling companies the way we did before.

On one hand, it’s too bad that we can’t recycle all the plastics. On the other hand, those plastics would no longer actually be recycled anyway.

One way you can help us maximize the amount of plastic that does get recycled on campus is to watch what you purchase. Avoid lower-grade plastic, like saran wrap and plastic bags. Of the “three R’s” (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), “Reduce” really doesn’t get enough love. By controlling what we consume in the first place, there’s then less stuff that needs to be reused or recycled down the road.

If you have any questions, would like more info, or want to get involved in Waste Reduction Week, send me an email at jcoo2@uottawa.ca .

~ julie cook - Recycing and Waste Diversion Coordinator
photo credit - jonathan rausseo

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