by Neil Carleton
The recycling symbol of 3 arrows in a triangle shape was designed by university student Gary Anderson in 1970, at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. His creation was the winning entry for an Earth Day contest for graphic art students to design a symbol representing paper recycling.
The history of recycling dates back at least two and a half millennia. It was a necessity during times of distress – war, famine, plague, earthquake – when new materials were scarce or just not available. Archaeological evidence, for example, indicates that glass from Byzantine times was being recycled in the ancient city of Sagalassos, located in current day southwestern Turkey.
Looking to more recent times, the recycling efforts of the war years were largely forgotten with the general prosperity that followed WWII. When landfilling became a cheap way to dispose of everyone’s unwanted stuff here in our part of the world, municipal dumps took it all for the next forty years or so – the good, the bad, and the hazardously ugly.
It was an easy decision at the household level. When the garbage container was full, it was taken to the dump and emptied. With the advent of curbside pick-up, the journey to the end of the driveway was much shorter. When dumps were renamed landfill sites things sure sounded better.
Preceding a blue box program in our community were recycle depots initiated and operated in 1989 and 1990 by volunteers of Almonte’s Environmental Action Committee (EAC). The EAC’s work to promote the need for a municipal, multi-material, recycling program also included:
- recycling questionnaires to Almonte households;
- feasibility study for recycling in town;
- presentations to Council and the Public Works Committee;
- community displays on recycling;
- presentations on recycling to students and staff of Almonte’s elementary schools;
- collector bin for pop cans at the Almonte Community Centre;
- weekly column in the Almonte Gazette;
- sale of reusable cloth shopping bags in Almonte stores.
Although public response to recycling was enthusiastic, in early 1990 the Town of Almonte cut 50% of its financial commitment to the Lanark County blue box recycling system. There were other setbacks too, but much was accomplished in the following decades.
By 2000 the Lanark County blue box program was mainstream in town, and schools were actively participating. The grade 6 class in room 22 at R. Tait McKenzie coordinated the school’s well established recycle program.
When the Lanark County recycle program was dismantled, individual municipalities contracted with waste companies for blue box service.
The new recycling program that started in Mississippi Mills on June 1st is a joint initiative with Carleton Place and the townships of Beckwith, Drummond / North Elmsley, and Montague. A curbside waste audit at rural and urban locations was conducted 3 years ago, which resulted in a waste management strategy. This led to a request for proposals and a contractor was selected from the submissions.
The blue box contents that are now collected in the 5 municipalities is trucked to a transfer station at Beckwith, owned by Matrec Inc. and operated by Tops Waste Management Inc. The recyclables are loaded into larger trucks at Beckwith and transported about 270 km to a materials recovery facility in St. Hubert, Quebec, about 3 hours away near Montreal.
The state-of-the-art facility at St. Hubert uses a variety of technologies to sort recyclable materials. Paper is removed from the waste stream by vacuum, and pulsing electromagnets take out the metals. Optical sorters use infrared light to determine the composition of plastics, and air blasts move them into appropriate bins. Some hand sorting completes the process at the end of the line. The sorted materials are then marketed for processing into new products.
The goal of the new recycle program is to increase participation by residents, and increase the amount of material that is diverted from landfill. The cost is offset in part from the revenue generated by the sale of the recyclable materials. In 2012, for example, the return to Mississippi Mills was $106,000 from all marketed recyclables.
With the June 1st launch, the new program in our community started with some big and welcome changes. Plastics #1 to #7 are now accepted. The exception is # 6 polystyrene which is not accepted. Styrofoam and plastic bags are also not accepted. In addition, tetra paks (juice boxes), gable tops (milk cartons), and spiral wound containers (frozen juice tubes) can now be added. There is a lot more material being diverted from landfill and going into our blue boxes now.
Another big change is comingle collection. That means the contents of our blue boxes go straight into the truck with no sorting by the driver any more.
Change comes at a cost. It’s understandable that a modest financial investment would be needed to launch a new program. Then there’s our reaction to change itself and the disruption of well established patterns of behaviour. When the recycle truck arrived before some blue boxes had been put out, the staff at the town office sure heard all about it.
Even though everyone seems to know that garbage containers and blue boxes need to be out by 7:00 a.m., some folks were caught off guard on June 1st by leaving the blue box until later as was their custom. Being keen observers over the seasons, some had figured out that garbage was usually picked up first, and blue boxes weren’t emptied until much later. It wasn’t unusual to see some blue boxes around the municipality heading for the curb or roadside later in the morning.
The helpful staff at the town hall would like to remind everyone that garbage containers and blue boxes can be put out after 6 p.m. the night before, and need to out before 7:00 a.m. on the day of curbside collection.
Further information about the new recycle program in Mississippi Mills is available at the town’s website.
A curbside collection map and schedule is available too.
Millstone readers may call if they have questions, comments, or concerns about our new recycle program.
Cory Smith, Public Works Technologist, 613 256-2064 x 229
Cindy Hartwick, Administrative Assistant, 613 256-2064 x 258
Editor’s note: Cory Smith and other Mississippi Mills town staff are to be commended for their willingness to pitch in to get this program off the ground. When glitches happened during the switchover, they were out there collecting garbage themselves to make it work.