Going beyond the Blue Box

Some items not recyclable via the traditional Blue Box program can now be diverted via a new program in Elmira. Barb Smith of Gale Presbyterian Church said she attended a Reep House webinar about recycling items that are difficult to recycle. She learned about the concept of recycling hubs, which ar

Last updated on May 03, 23

Posted on Mar 23, 23

4 min read

Some items not recyclable via the traditional Blue Box program can now be diverted via a new program in Elmira.

Barb Smith of Gale Presbyterian Church said she attended a Reep House webinar about recycling items that are difficult to recycle. She learned about the concept of recycling hubs, which are places around the region set up to take in items that can’t be thrown into the blue bins, and she thought Gale could be one of those hubs.

“I’ve been involved with environmental things since 1989, since the water crisis started here in Elmira. So it’s something that I am aware of and go out of my way to do,” she said.

The recycling program is organized and run by TerraCycle, a company that collects and recycles items not accepted in the municipal diversion system. The company offers programs to recycle various products and packaging that anyone can participate in.

Smith connected with Connie Lum, who set up a recycling hub at Rockway Community Centre in Kitchener in 2022. Lum heard about TerraCycle in the course of her work as an environmental consultant.

In 2021, she approached the Eastwood Neighbourhood Association with her idea to start a TerraCycle recycling hub at the community centre, a plan soon approved by the board. Then she held a survey through the group’s Facebook page to see if the neighbours would be interested and what kind of items they would like to recycle. That determined which recycling programs she selected.

“In 2022, we made two shipments – a total of 7.64 kg (16.84 lbs) of waste was diverted from our little community. I am working on filling up the third shipment (the first in 2023) in bigger shipping boxes,” said Lum. She says this year they are expanding to include Brita water filters, and that other recycling programs have popped up at other community centres after she held the webinar with Reep Green Solutions about how to set up these recycling programs.

Smith said she picked the first three programs that have so far worked for Lum at the Rockway Centre, including oral care products like used toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes and mouthwash bottles, disposable razors and packaging, and used Swiffer refills. The oral care and razor programs are open to any brands. The Swiffer refill program is for the Swiffer brand only.

People can come by the church anytime it’s open and drop off their used products into the labeled containers inside the vestibule at the front door. People don’t even have to come all the way into the church, said Smith.

The church’s hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closed from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.), Fridays 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Sundays mornings during the worship service, which starts at 10:30 a.m.

Smith will go through the bins to take out anything that can’t be included in the recycling programs such as plastic bags or off-brand refills.

Once full, she will put the items into boxes, print off the shipping labels courtesy of TerraCycle, and send them to the company. TerraCycle will also give a donation to an organization of choice for each shipment sent in.

The first time she will be putting the items collected into shipping boxes to send to TerraCycle will be at a coffee hour after Gale’s church service on April 23.

The programs organized by TerraCycle are sponsored by the companies who make the products, so this is why some of them are open to items of all brands, and others open only to the company’s specific products.

TerraCycle staff break down what the term “recyclable” can mean on their website. “What makes something municipally recyclable depends on whether your local recycling company can make a profit recycling it,” they said.

“If the cost of collecting and processing the waste is lower than the value of the resulting raw material, it will likely be locally recyclable. If the cost is higher, then it likely won’t be. The good news is that most trash can be technically recycled – practical recyclability all comes down to the underlying business model.”

The organization works with companies that sell products to sponsor recycling programs, or sells recycling programs to consumers to cover the cost of providing a collection box, transportation to and from the recipient, and the cost of sorting, cleaning and recycling the contents of the material.

TerraCycle develops ways to recycle each waste product sent in. First the research team determines the product’s composition and decides which technical solutions could be used to sort, clean and turn it into new materials.

Then a process flow is created, and the right equipment and techniques are mobilized. Then, they find partners with third-party facilities that implement their solutions. Finally, the material is sold to manufacturing companies who produce new products out of the recycled material.

On its website, TerraCycle says it goes through auditing and verification procedures and maintains a chain of custody of the materials they receive. “We guarantee that we recycle all of the accepted waste sent to us through our free and paid recycling programs. We strictly control the movement of materials through each part of the recycling process so we can track and confirm where materials were sent and for what purpose.”

Lum says a circular economy map of retail shops, community centres and charities around the region where people can drop off items for reuse or repair, or drop off materials not accepted by the region’s Blue Box program, is also available on the Reep Green website, reepgreen.ca.

Smith said she hopes Gale’s program with TerraCycle will catch on with other organizations in the community who will decide to become recycling hubs for different products. TerraCycle has dozens of programs to choose from on its website.

“I’m trying to be the pebble in the pond,” she said. “Just drop the idea in there, and hopefully the ripple effect will affect other places and it’ll get picked up by other places. You just never know where it’s going to end up.”

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