Have you ever wondered why the recycling box is blue? Or why only certain materials are accepted for recycling? Or even where recycling started? Proof of recycling can actually be found all the way back to 400 BCE, however modern curbside recycling programs can be traced back to the 1960s.
In the 1960s, the soft drink beverage industry introduced non-refillable aluminum cans. These non-refillable cans allowed the beverage industry to save costs from collecting and cleaning the refillable containers. Even though non-refillable containers were seen as more convenient for consumers, it greatly increased the amount of waste being thrown away.
In 1972, the Ontario Government created the Ministry of the Environment (MOE). One of the goals of the MOE was to reduce waste caused by the soft drink industry. Refillable bottles were promoted through a change to the Environmental Protection Act (EPA), however the outcome was voluntary compliance instead of regulation.
The provincial government built a facility in Downsview, Ontario to process mixed waste and recover valuable materials. The materials recovered were very low quality because they were mixed in with regular garbage. A pilot project was then conducted at Canadian Forces Base Borden to determine if at-home separation of recyclable materials by category and type (called “source separation”) would increase the quality of materials. In 1978, the Recycling Council of Ontario was established to help recycling operators sell their materials.
During this time, citizens were also seeing a need to address waste issues on their own. Grassroots organizations developed their own recycling program for their communities, including Pollution Probe which was started by University of Toronto students and academics, and the Citizen’s Committee for Pollution Control which was formed in the Town of Burlington (now the City of Burlington).
Industry was also doing its part by establishing a symbol to distinguish that the materials used in the product are made from recycled materials.
In 1983, the MOE released a framework which set requirements for waste management. The MOE released Regulations 340 and 357 which set limits for soft drink manufactures and the percentage of non-refillable containers allowed to be used. To address the issue of waste collection by the beverage industry, industry agreed to set up and pay for a recycling system to help achieve a target of 50% recovery of non-refillable containers.
Meanwhile in Kitchener, a pilot project for curbside recycling program was being tested. The test area households were provided with boxes branded with “WE RECYCLE.” The recycling boxes were coloured blue as they were easier to see on the curb. Blue was also an attractive colour and it was easily available from the supplier. The size of the box was selected to ensure that it would not be stolen by university students to hold record albums!
The program was a big hit: requests for boxes came in from all over the City. The study started in September 1981, and went city-wide in 1983. In 1984, the City of Kitchener issued a tender for waste haulers. The lowest bid did not include a recycling program. With a passionate plead from three grade four students to Council, the contract was awarded to a company that offered recycling. The Blue Box program was saved!
The Ontario government also established funding for a recycling program and awarded Halton’s Recycled Resources Ltd. to implement the first region-wide multi-material curbside recycling program in Halton Region in 1987.
The Ontario government launched a number of waste reduction initiatives including requiring every municipality with a population of at least 5,000 residents to operate a Blue Box program accepting at least five mandatory packaging materials: aluminum containers, glass containers, newsprint, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, steel containers, and two additional materials selected from a schedule.
A proposal was introduced to make manufacturers financially or physically responsible for their products. At the same time, a deposit return system for all bottles was also proposed. Waste Diversion Ontario was established to address the issue of funding and the future of recycling. Their report, Achieving Sustainable Municipal Waste Diversion Programs in Ontario, led to the creation of Ontario’s Waste Diversion Act.
The Waste Diversion Act came into effect in 2002. Through the Waste Diversion Act, Stewardship Ontario was appointed to facilitate the funding of the Blue Box Program. The program requires industry stewards (the businesses that manufacture or import packaging) to contribute 50% of recycling program costs, with municipalities covering the other 50%.
The provincial government set a goal to divert 60% of Ontario’s waste away from landfill. In 2004, the overall diversion rate for the Province was around 23%. In 2008, the province set a loftier goal of “zero waste” through program changes and extended producer responsibilities (EPR).
Halton Region is a leader in waste diversion. Currently we accept an assortment of materials in the Blue Box for recycling. In April 2013, new additional materials will be added to the Blue Box program and combined with weekly organics collection and some additional program changes, Halton hopes to increase its waste diversion rate to 65% by 2016.
Recycling has really come a long way since the 1960s. Acceptable materials have increased over time, the frequency of collection has increased, and the size of our Blue Boxes have gotten bigger. Recycling really does make a difference — make it a daily habit!
Do you remember when your family first started recycling? Let me know what your family thought about the Blue Box when they first started using it.