Recycling Tips from Green, Broke & Living in Kits

This page is a summary of all previous "Green, Broke & Living in Kits - Recycling Tip" entries in this blog, separated from their original posts for your convenience.

Updated as the tips are posted in the blog.

PLEASE NOTE: Happily, the posts regarding waxed paper milk cartons and styrofoam (polystyrene) are now inaccurate! They have been updated (which is noted) to include their recent inclusion in the "Mixed Paper" blue bin repertoire.

Milk cartons and styrofoam - YIPPEE!

In chronological order of posting:


Monday, February 21, 2011 (UPDATED 30 APRIL 2012)

Q: Can I recycle milk cartons (both the waxed cardboard type and plastic ones) in Vancouver?
A: YES! The 'Mixed Paper' Blue Bin will NOW take Waxed Cartons!

ORIGINAL POST: The City of Vancouver's Engineering Services website on Solid Waste points out that Encorp Return-It depots (i.e. bottle depots that aren't within other retailers like a BCL or Safeway) will take the empties from you for free and have them recycled. Otherwise, no - they cannot be taken in the blue bins. They apparently end up in the landfill if you do.

Emptied milk cartons make great seedling pots

There are many ways that you can reuse empty milk cartons, the most useful (to me) is to cut it in half and use the square bottom half as a plant pot for starting seedlings (punch a few drainage holes in the bottom first).

Perhaps the best option is to buy milk in glass bottles. Not only can you use the empty milk bottles for food storage (and they look so cute on the shelf!), you can use them as rustic vases or for storage of small things like the spare buttons that come on new garments or safety pins. They also work great to hold paintbrushes, tips up. They're narrow in the neck, but can be used to store a few pairs of chopsticks as well, or even knitting needles (in which case, you simply MUST knit it a cozy!).

You can visit the Metro Vancouver Recycles website to see if what you have (and it could be anything!) can be recycled, and where. It's convenient and easy, and even has a self-generated map to show you your closest option.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Q: Can I recycle my empty paper coffee cups in the 'mixed paper' recycling boxes?

I'm no saint. I make coffee at home, I *sometimes* remember to bring a travel mug, but every so often it's paper-cup time pour moi. I tuck them into my bag and bring 'em home, though, for repurposing!

A: No - you absolutely cannot, I'm very sorry to say.

This is one that stirs up quite a bit of controversy at my two principal work sites. I've seen signs admonishing people for attempting to recycle their paper cups in one area, only to find a stack of empties waist-high, and leaning like the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the corner of the lunchroom. On campus, I've even seen an invitation to recycle coffee cups in a paper bin, but I've never been completely certain if they are possible to recycle (I don't see why not, but that never seems to get me very far if the recycling depots of Vancouver feel otherwise).

This topic is not without controversy elsewhere in the city, either. On the Vancouver Coffee Blog, this article cropped up, mentioning that a Vision Vancouver counsillor had proposed a tax on paper cups.

And last month, David MacPherson posted "The Coffee Cup Conundrum" on SPEC's website (The Society Promoting Environmental Conservation). In it, he gives an estimate of coffee cups in Vancouver comprising 3.5% of landfill waste! That's a staggering statistic! Actually, this whole article is very well-written, and I think I'll defer to David on this subject. Please read on here.

And for those too lazy, I'll quote some of the good bits here (thanks in advance, Mr MacPherson!):

Please follow above link to this excellent article. It's a short one!

So what about those recycling bins for paper cups that the Tim Horton's have? (I never would have known this, were it not for this article - I hate their 'coffee'.). Pure, feel-good, white-washed crap, as explained in the article:

On Tim Horton's recycling bins for cups in-store in Vancouver

At this point (although I'm quite embarrassed to admit to it), I have to share that I have reached into countless trash cans around campus and at work to separate the plastic coffee lids from the cups, believing them to be recyclable. I have another post coming on this subject, and so considering the research I've done I ought to have known better. No matter, I'll leave this 'til the next installment. But in the meantime:

Depressing, yes? I thought so. I always enjoy the hefty ceramic cafe mugs and have been quietly lamenting their demise for purely esthetic reasons previously. Alas.

An final thought from Mr MacPherson:

I'm encouraging you (I hope)! :) Let's all try to avoid these EVEN MORE strongly.

And my advice then, to you: TAKE HOME YOUR COFFEE CUPS AND REUSE THEM!

They make excellent seedling containers (just poke a drainage hole in the bottom and fill with soil!), you can use them as gift packages (no, really! Clean it out (or paint it if it's stained and ugly), keep the lid, stuff the inside with strips of used newspaper or crumbled (reused! Go forth to the craft drawer!) tissue paper, put your small gift inside, and voila! With a bow on the top (loops of newspaper strips taped or glued in the centre would be so cute!), it will be the most talked-about gift at your next party. Also a great gag-gift box for the coworker who WILL NOT recycle - take that! The whole package is reused and recycled. Put in recycled metal bracelets or something from Ten Thousand Villages to really tick 'em off good!

And let's all then resolve to carry our reusable mugs. I know I will after reading the SPEC article above.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Today's Green, Broke & Living in Kits Recycling Tip is on Aluminum Foil!

Q: Can aluminum foil be recycled, even once it's all crumpled and used and slightly gross from food residue?

A: Yes! Though I'm sure they'd prefer it to be clean, but yes, even grimy, used aluminum foil can get put in the recycling bins in Greater Vancouver. So can empty aluminum take-away containers (like the round foil ones that Chinese food comes in, or pasta from a Greek/Italian restaurant). Like pop cans, it's all melted down and reused. (Don't forget foil yogurt caps, too!).

Some examples of aluminum food containers that can be recycled

The best thing you can do, as always, is to reuse the container or foil a few times more before recycling it, thus extending its use and hopefully preventing use of more foil in the process. I reused a big empty container left over from my partner's volunteer position at a soup kitchen for holding seedlings on my kitchen table or living room floor for a few seasons. Once it had finally become a pain, I simply put it into the recycling bin. Who knows - I may have even purchased the same foil when I bought recycled aluminum foil from the store (which is a fantastic thing to do!).

The label is a bit 'guilt-trip' heavy, but it's a good choice regardless!

Chuck the foil scraps in the recycling bin!

You can also use empty containers as paint palettes, as seedling pots themselves (the deeper ones anyway), or as trays for storing yucky, drippy bottles in (i.e. if you have half-used motor oil containers and you don't want a greasy ring on the cement floor of your garage, put an empty Chinese food tin under it and voila!). There's about a million kid's craft ideas with empty aluminum containers as well, so if you have small children you'd like to entertain on the cheap, stack these up in a cupboard somewhere! (These butterflies are great - I would have loved to make them as a kid!).

Recycle me! And the yogurt-tops, too!

Thursday, September 29, 2011 (UPDATED 30 APRIL 2012)

It's time for another installment of "Green, Broke & Living in Kits - Recycling Tips"!

Please remember that this information is local and current for the City of Vancouver only, and may differ greatly from your municipality's waste management programme. If you're not in Vancouver, be sure to find out what the rules are where you live - and I always hope they're better than our set of rules!

Q: Where can I recycle #6 PS (polystyrene) food trays? In my blue bin with other containers?

A: Styrofoam can now be recycled in the "Mixed Paper" blue bin!

ORIGINAL POST (Sept 2011): NO. Curses! Yet another ubiquitous garbage item that cannot be recycled. My rhetorical and annoyed follow-up question is "Then why are there so many of these stupid things in shops?!". Argh.

Aha - the one thing that stumped the Metro Vancouver Recycles website! Polystyrene!

We can't recycle these, just like we can't recycle empty coffee cups or milk cartons. So what can we do with them, apart from tossing them into landfills? (Here's a story out of Portland, Oregon, USA, where a school has actively replaced styrofoam trays with a more eco-option. The article mentions that Portland once did have a 'polystyrene recycler', but it was defunct by 2002...).

> : p


Firstly, stringently avoid purchasing these hateful little things, whenever possible. But when you can't, or you already have them, keep them - they stack and store easily.

Another very important consideration is to NOT reuse raw meat and fish trays because of the risk of Salmonella or E. coli contamination (among other lesser-known harmful bacteria). Veggies are good and safe - just give the trays a quick wipe with a soapy sponge and a rinse before putting them to use.

Here's a few ideas for reuse:

I use mine for painting. They work great.

  • paint palettes
  • kid's crafts (some ideas here)
  • motor oil drip catcher for under the car (if it's leaking, get it checked - I can't tell you the number of times I'd check someone's oil at the garage only to find it completely empty! Don't do that to your car - it's not environmentally wise to let your vehicle run inefficiently/die an untimely death!)
  • spoon rest for messy sauces
  • seedling pot spill-tray
  • support trays for the bottom of paper or gift bags
  • two trays in a large paper envelope can serve as a padded mailing envelope

And here's some more ideas I found on the internet:

Hmm. I have to say that there aren't a ton of really nifty reuses for these terrible trays.

Let us resolve to JUST SAY NO to POLYSTYRENE! For inspiration, visit the amazing blog and life chronicle called "Plastic Manners". For a great Canadian (CBC) documentary, I also recommend "Forever Plastic" - it answers many questions on what plastics can and cannot be recycled.

And remember: Just because the manufacturer has stamped a friendly little 'recycling code' symbol on it, DOESN'T MEAN IT'S RECYCLABLE. The sad fact is that no infrastructure + no market for that recycled material = no recycling programme in place.

UPDATE: 30 April 2012
My blue box (Mixed Paper) says it takes waxed milk cartons, but I can't back it up online with a link yet!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It's a Green, Broke & Living in Kits Recycling Tips double-header today! Slightly less exciting than a HNIC double-header, but slightly more important (unless the Canucks are playing, in which case it's debatable).

Q: What plastic types / #'s can you recycle in Vancouver blue bins?

A: Just #1, 2, 4 and 5. Vancouver isn't exactly the most progressive city in terms of plastics recycling. 

Currently, only numbers 1 (PET/PETE - polyethylene terephthalate), 2 (HDPE - high density polyethylene), 4 (LDPE - low density polyethylene) and 5 (PP - polypropylene) can be recycled in our curbside blue boxes.

 If you'd like to further educate yourself on each of the categories, here's a terrific website to help you out (complete with pretty pictures of not-so-pretty plastics):

In Vancouver, we can chuck #1, #2, #4 and #5 into the blue box no trouble, but what about #3, #6 and #7? Why not those?

I just posted in the last Green, Broke & Living in Kits recycling tip that polystyrene trays (#6) aren't recycled in the city. #3 is the dreaded PVC or "polyvinyl chloride", and it has a whole host of issues, primarily surrounding the "chloride" part of it's chemical composition.
#7 is a catch-all category for "other", which pretty much tells you the demand for which is slim to none. What manufacturer would pay for a conglomerate of "other" plastic types mixed together? Hardly a recipe for consistency.



So here's the bottom line(s):

DON'T BUY PLASTIC WHENEVER YOU HAVE AN ALTERNATIVE CHOICE (and there's always an option - for inspiration on going plastic-free, visit the brilliant Plastic Manners blog)

NEVER, EVER, EVER BUY PVC ANYTHING (#3). Especially clothing. I don't care if you have a fetish - find a new one! It's nasty, and I still maintain that one should never wear any garment whose washing instructions are "wipe clean with damp cloth"!

Is this recyclable in Vancouver? "PP" stands for polypropylene = #5. YES!


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Q: Can I recycle those plastic mesh bags?

A: You can put them in your blue bin, but it's doubtful they'll be recycled. Best bet - reuse!!!

See full article here, but here's the short list of what you can do with them:

- reuse by storing spring flower bulbs in them over the summer, hanging in a cool, dry and dark place (like a closet)

- snip and trim to line reused gardening pots to prevent excess soil from falling out of the drainage holes during planting

- art projects, no kidding - and if that's not your thing, consider donating your clean and colourful mesh bags to somewhere like Urban Source on Main Street (remember the old "Imagination Market"?). I'm sure many of these would make fantastic doll-sized hammocks, too.