Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Recyclable Deposits

Though I've only been in the Lower Mainland for a couple of weeks yet, already I've encountered many things that you just don't see back in Toronto. Things like Mount Baker thrusting up past the horizon, so massive and yet so distant that its lower reaches fade away into nothing. Oil tankers anchored in English Bay waiting to unload and whole wide logs in the Fraser River, destined for shipment to some far corner of the world. People digging through garbage cans with their bare hands, searching for bottles to turn in for the five-cent deposit.

It's not surprising that they're able to make a go at it; in my time in Vancouver and New Westminster, one thing I've not seen is public recycling bins. For a place that seems to be so devoted to reducing its environmental impact - my New Westminster 2010 Garbage & Recycling Calendar makes clear that recyclables are to be sorted three ways, bottles and jars and aluminum and plastics in the familiar blue boxes, newspapers in blue bags, and mixed paper and cardboard in yellow bags, rather than the "one box holds all" model that's the rule back in the GTA - this seems like a strange oversight. There are plenty of garbage cans though, be they the permanent, rather small grey ones along every street, or the "ring and bag" model that looks like it came right from the Toronto subway.

Google didn't help matters much, so I asked around at work instead. I was told that street-side recycling containers were put up in Vancouver during the run-up to the Olympics as part of a trial program, but as if to demonstrate why we can't have nice things, people just disposed of trash in them. Apparently, the "lip" present on Metro Vancouver garbage cans - the ones I've found in Vancouver and New Westminster, at least - is generally used as a recyclables-holder. Really, though, if I want to do the right thing I pretty much have to hold onto my cans and bottles until I can bring them home and toss them in the box.

A combination garbage-recycling bin in Toronto.

Contrast this to the setup I'm most familiar with, that of Toronto. Whether it's the older or newer models, the street-side refuse bins aren't particular - there's one slot for litter and another slot for all recyclables, feeding into two separate hoppers within the bin... although, on at least one occasion, I do recall witnessing both bins being dumped by a city worker into the same receptacle on a garbage truck. I'm not sure what to think about that. That they're both in the same bin may explain why there isn't the same issue of "garbage in the recycling" that seems to have scuppered Vancouver's experiment, if that is what happened - it takes a lot of balls to shove garbage into the recycling slot when the litter slot is right there, but if you've got garbage now and the only thing around is a recycling bin, you might not be choosy.

Nevertheless, I think that the apparent lack of even dedicated recycling bins on the street, let alone Toronto-style combination bins, is a severe oversight. At the very least, I'd argue that there should be separate garbage and recycling hoppers for sheer public health purposes; with the British Columbia bottle deposit, people are going to dig through for bottles they can return for cash no matter what hopper they're in. Wouldn't it be better off that they didn't have to dig up the city's garbage first?

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