The State of Toronto's Blue Bin Recycling Program

The City of Toronto is home to the fourth largest municipal waste management system in North America, managing approximately 200,000 tonnes of recyclables annually through its Blue Bin Recycling Program.
Last month, Solid Waste Management Services (SWMS) brought forward a report on the State of Toronto's Blue Bin Recycling Program.
As Chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, I was concerned by the challenges emphasized within the report regarding blue bin contamination, recent developments in international markets and the delay in transition towards full extended producer responsibility.
Waste Audit results have indicated that contamination in the Blue Bin Recycling Program has been increasing since 2013, at both single family and multi-residential locations. Contaminated recycling is currently costing the City millions annually and last year more than 52,000 tonnes of non-recyclable material was incorrectly put in the Blue Bin.
The most common culprits of blue bin contamination are:

  • Organic wastes;
  • Oversized materials;
  • Textiles;
  • Black plastics;
  • Hot beverage containers; and
  • Single-serve coffee pods.

Contamination in the Blue Bin Recycling Program has been increasing over time due to a number of factors. Residents in the City of Toronto are often confused by the City of Toronto's recycling program, as items that are accepted in one municipality's recycling program may not be accepted in another.
At the most recent Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting, I requested that staff address misleading advertising of products and/or packaging recyclability in Toronto. Many residents feel they are recycling right by following labels on the product, however, these items may not be accepted in Toronto's specific recycling program. This may lead to further contamination that deems a recycling bin as waste. This is confusing and unfair to our residents.
I also moved a motion requesting SWMS to report on the ability of the City of Toronto to require retailers of textile material in the City to post reuse, recyclability and waste disposal options at the point of purchase. The average Toronto household throws out about 13 kg/29 lbs of clothing and other textiles every year. Unfortunately, when these textiles are placed in the blue bin, they can tangle sorting machines, damage equipment and cause workplace injuries.
Overall, there is a lack of awareness of the negative implications of improper disposal of non-recyclable items and recycling correctly.
The state of Toronto's Blue Bin program is concerning and residents must do their part to ensure they are recycling right, preventing contamination and doing their part to reduce the production and use of recyclable materials. When perfectly good recyclables end up in the landfill, it costs the City of Toronto and our residents.
Confused which products go where? Visit the City's Waste Wizard to search over 2,000 different waste products and determine the appropriate disposal techniques.
As one of the largest and most successful municipal recycling programs in North America, the City of Toronto's Solid Waste Management Services continues to address contamination, react quickly to changing market dynamics, and provide a strong platform on the transition to an extended producer responsibility model.