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The Glass is Half Empty

Kingston Triathlon

Regular readers know that I am the de facto sixth member of the Planeteers. In the past, I’ve helped promote Kingston’s organic waste recycling program, proposed a pedestrian friendly solution for the downtown core, and echoed concerns about plastic bags and bottled water. All in all, these aren’t ground breaking feats of environmental heroism, rather they are key issues that must be addressed before Kingston can realize it’s goal of becoming Canada’s most sustainable city.

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed that more of my neighbours are putting out fewer bags of garbage. Consequently, I’ve also recognized that more people are rolling their green bins out to the curb for collection. This is all very promising, but a recent mishap on recycling day made me question the effectiveness, and overall process associated with our recycling program.  Our blue box was brimming with all the right stuff, and when it came time to bring it back inside, we found that it had not been emptied.  We then discovered a bright orange slip of paper stating that our recycling was unserviced as a result of broken glass inside our blue box. The entire text on the delinquent slip reads as follows:

Some or all of your blue box items were not picked up today because:

  • This is the wrong week for your grey box materials.  Please place out next week.
  • Do Not Bag blue box items.  Place them loosely in your blue box and put bags in your grey box.
  • Rinse clean all glass, metal and plastic containers.
  • Styrofoam pieces must be no larger than 36″ x 24″ x 8″.
  • #4 Plastic that is not a bottle or jar (e.g. bakery & produce containers).
  • Many items including the list below are not recyclable in our program.  Please place in your garbage:  plastic packaging without #s; #3 or #7 plastic; toys; laundry baskets; #2 plastic pails (20 litres +); motor oil containers; light bulbs; mirrors; drinking glasses; ceramics; wire coat handers; window glass.

Please correct problems and place your box out before 6:00 am on your next blue box collection day. Place it in a visible area curbside and separate from your garbage.

Why is broken glass prohibited?  Does it pose a safety hazard to the waste management worker who dumps our bins into the recycling truck?  Clearly not.  What happens to glass containers, which are broken in transit and during sorting?  If you know anything about the process of recycling glass, bottles and jars are crushed so that they can be melted and reshaped into  new containers.  During my search for answers, I stumbled across an article from the Star Tribune, which suggests that a huge amount of broken multi-coloured glass is being dumped in landfills because it can’t be sold.  Is this the culprit for Kingston’s broken glass ban?  If so, how much broken glass is Canada’s most sustainable City diverting to the landfill?

Getting back to my story, as I am now left with a heaping pile of recycling, that will grow for two more weeks before it can go back out to the curb.  Luckily I’m committed to this whole recycling thing, and I’m willing to pick a few pieces of glass out of my blue bin.  But what about everyone else?  I imagine there are many people who would say “the hell with it” and dump the contents of their rejected blue box into a trash bag.  In the end, wouldn’t it make better sense if the City accepted broken glass, rather than risk people unsubscribing from recycling?

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Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

11 thoughts on “The Glass is Half Empty

  • July 30, 2009 at 7:38 am
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    Exactly. Completely agree. I feel like those slips are a slap-in-the-face to my effort to collect and separate my trash all week. I hate them, and have seriously considered scrapping the whole recycling effort at times in the past.

  • July 30, 2009 at 10:26 am
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    I think that this whole alternating weeks ‘gray/blue bin’ stuff is a huge distraction. Where I used to live we just threw it all in every week and they simply separated it at the recycling center. By doing so they raised compliance rates for recycling, and definitely avoided this alienation of those who comply 99% of the time, and thus avoid the exact anguish you’re experiencing. I’ve been there too — nothing irks me more!

  • July 30, 2009 at 10:32 am
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    Also, to add on to the last comment — this pickiness is actually the cause for a lot of the mess ’caused by the students’ in the student village there; it doesn’t get picked up one week because of some small thing like this, then it gets blown over / kicked over / forgotten about, spewing trash everywhere. If they simply did their jobs, picking up the recycling, then they would also improve the appearance tremendously, and avoid a lot of the angst in that area.

  • July 30, 2009 at 8:19 pm
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    In Hamilton they stopped requiring separation and tieing of boxes etc. Just put it all out, and they separate it. WAY easier.

  • July 31, 2009 at 1:56 am
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    “Does it pose a safety hazard to the waste management worker who dumps our bins into the recycling truck? Clearly not.”

    Please explain how this broken glass is “clearly not” a safety hazard to the waste management worker.

    And considering your self-touting about how green your ass is, may I add that it seems like something you would know they wouldn’t take? But that would mean that you deliberately undermined the recycling program, and you’re too green for that. Right?

  • July 31, 2009 at 9:23 am
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    @That Guy Unsorted recycling is dumped into the back of the recycling vehicle. Although a visual inspection of the contents likely occurs, this does not involve a hand entering your blue box to touch every little thing, or risk injuring a hand. The waste management workers know exactly what they’re after, and are probably pretty good at recognizing unacceptable items. That said, if a hand ever entered your blue box (ie to pick out an item for a closer look), keep in mind it would be covered in a sturdy construction-grade glove. In the end, perhaps “clearly not” should have been stated as “extremely, very low to no risk”.

    Regarding the colour of my posterior, I assure you it is not gangrenous. Joking aside, I know that broken glass is not a collectible item, and further, I was not trying to circumvent the rules. Honestly, I don’t know how the broken jar ended up inside. Perhaps it was knocked on the way to the curb, or maybe we didn’t take enough care when dumping it inside. In the end it doesn’t matter, mea culpa, and a big orange delinquent slip to boot.

  • July 31, 2009 at 11:13 am
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    Since I am newish to the city I mistakenly placed those plastic strawberry containers in my bluebox the first time I set it out. The recycling man was so kind as to pick out all good recycling and leave the strawberry containers in the bin with a note. I thought that I got treated pretty well since he could have easily not dumped anything and left the full box at the curb.

    I think this is a pretty funny post, considering what’s happening in Toronto. You spoiled residents should be happy you have garbage collection at all!

  • July 31, 2009 at 4:32 pm
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    I got one of these delinquent slips the first time I threw out something egregious after moving here. After the completely wretched state of recycling in the last town I lived in (Ottawa, where there are no green bins and garbage collectors just throw the bad recycling on your lawn instead of leaving a thoughtful note) I was blown away by how polite and helpful the system here was. That said, I do think the city needs to think about a way around little problems like the broken glass issue. It’s the little things that are going to keep the larger population from diving wholeheartedly into the recycling scene. Yeah, it’s a scene. And @Jason–you’re right, Hamilton totally has the system down. I propose a fact finding road trip to my glorious hometown.

  • July 31, 2009 at 9:50 pm
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    It’s been a while since we’ve had broken glass, but I’ve been known to take all of the pieces and put them inside another glass container with the lid back on. So, a bunch of broken clear glass goes into a pickle jar. And a bunch of broken coloured glass goes into a … coloured pickle jar. They’ve always either a) taken the bottle and the pieces together or b) left JUST the bottle with the pieces and taken everything else.

    Keep in mind, too, that the KARC is WAY more lenient about the rules if you bring your stuff TO them. Less bagging, bundling and sorting of goods is needed out on Lappan’s Lane. Not sure they “officially” thumb’s up the broken glass there, though.

  • August 3, 2009 at 11:33 pm
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    Wait – you guys only get recycling picked up every 2 weeks? WTF is up with that? You live in a city! Up here “in the sticks” we get our recycling picked up each and every week – same with green bin. Now that we’re down to one teeny tiny bag of garbage a week, if they didn’t pick that stuff up weekly we’d have one heck of a pile – and a smelly one at that during the summer – in our garage. Yikes.

    As for the broken glass issue, I completely agree with you – it’s silly that you’ll have to trash it when it belongs in the blue bin. Out east, you pay a deposit for every single recyclable item you purchase(except for paper/cardboard products, and you get that money back when you drop your recycling off at any of the recycling depots. Sure, it’s a pain in the butt to do it every week, but still – you can return broken stuff -you just have to sort it yourself.

  • August 4, 2009 at 7:31 am
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    @Nicole Yes, and no. Blue and grey bins pickup alternates every other week, while our garbage and green bin are picked up every week. We live in a neighbourhood where they pick up grey (or blue), green and garbage all on the same day, however I know some who aren’t as lucky. The City made the move to alternate grey and blue pickup in an effort to cut emissions, and increase efficiency.

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