Recycling in North Bruce – Answers To Those Puzzling Questions

Contamination with grocery bag. Who knows what lurks inside?
Submitted by Jacqui Wakefield, MNBP Waste Diversion Group 

The residential “diversion rate” for the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula has slowly but steadily increased, reaching 38.1% in 2018 according to Waste Management of Canada. This means that we recycle almost 40% of what we “throw away”. This also means over 60% is waste or garbage! We still have a way to go though, because Waste Management Canada estimates that even for single use plastic water bottles, 69% are NOT recycled! Given this, the best first steps should remain to reduce and reuse!
The next step is to recycle everything possible in our municipality. The Recycling Fact Sheet lists acceptable and unacceptable blue box materials. It is available on the municipal website under “Waste Management”.
After knowing what IS acceptable, the next step is recycling “properly” – and this can be challenging even when we are trying to do our best. Many residents have raised questions about different aspects of our recycling. We answer some of the common ones below.
Q: How much of our “recycling” is contaminated and actually goes to landfill?
A: We don’t know our precise rates yet, but an audit specific for the Northern Bruce may be done by Waste Management Canada in the future. So, stay tuned!
Waste Management Canada (WMC) says that in general “nearly 1 in 4 items placed in recycling bins are NOT recyclable.” In 2018, the recyclers used by WMC reported a waste residue of about 15 for recycling from all municipalities sorted at Mount Forest. In order to continue to find markets willing to accept our recycling, we need to bring that residue down – as close to zero as possible.
One wrong item in the recycling bin may seem like a small detail –– but one non-recyclable item can spoil an entire batch of otherwise good materials if it is not found and removed. This is especially important here in the Northern Bruce where all our recycling goes in the same bin. Even a few spoonfuls of peanut butter left in a jar or some vegetable oil in the bottom of a bottle or a blob of yogurt left in its container can contaminate a tonne of paper and make it unusable!

Blue bags with wet and mouldy paper & boxboard.

Q: How many times do blue boxes get rejected?
A: Occasionally – especially if the driver sees that contamination is over 30%. However, whenever a blue box is rejected, a sticker with the reason is left to explain. Contamination of recycling is in the mainstream news these days (eg, the dispute with the Philippines about garbage contaminating plastic shipments from Canada), and the accompanying pictures are recent examples from our recycling boxes and bins here in the Northern Bruce.
Q: I always look for the number inside the recycling symbol on plastics – what numbers can we recycle here in MNBP?
A: Waste Management Canada states that numbers are much less important than making sure the plastic containers are CLEAN – ie, NO liquid or food residue!
Although the recycling market for plastics has been in flux ever since China stopped buying the world’s discarded plastics, those plastics that consistently are recyclable include #1 (soft drink, water, ketchup, and beer bottles; mouthwash bottles; peanut butter containers; salad dressing and vegetable oil containers) and #2 (juice bottles; bleach, detergent, and other household cleaner bottles; shampoo bottles; butter and yogurt tubs). For the most current information, check out the Recycle Often, Recycle Right website at
Q: Can I recycle envelopes with plastic windows?
A: YES! And the windows do not need to be removed.
Q: Should I remove lids from glass bottles and jars?
A: YES, please. Not only does this make recycling easier, it encourages residents to rinse (washing is even better!) the containers. Throw the lids in the trash.
The same applies to boxed beverage containers like the ones used for milk, cream and juice. Plastic caps on these items are a contaminant. In addition, it is difficult to compress the sealed containers at the recycling centre and any residual liquid “explodes all over the floor, creating a sticky stew with a stench.”
Q: Can I recycle coffee pods (eg, Keurig)?
A: NOT within our Municipality’s Blue Box recycling program. While the pods are technically recyclable, and many pods now have a recycling symbol, the only way these pods can be recycled is to “deconstruct” them (clean out and recycle the grounds and remove the foil tops). Even then, they require special machinery. The pods are too small and slip through the cracks of the machinery used by Waste Management Canada. Therefore, this item is NOT acceptable in our municipality (and this is true in many other municipalities). However, you may be able to use refillable pods or make coffee the good ol’ fashioned way and recycle the grounds and filters in your backyard compost!
Q: Can I recycle pizza and other food boxes?
A: MAYBE, but only if they are free of all grease, food bits and liners. Many boxes are stained with grease and that stain or food remnant can contaminate an entire load of cardboard sent for recycling! To recycle properly, tear off any soiled parts and put them in the trash. Then put the clean box parts in the recycle bin.
Q: Do I need to flatten cardboard?
A: It is very helpful to flatten then. They take up less space in your blue box and the recycling truck — and they eventually need to be flatten for shipping to the recycling mill.
Q: Should I remove tape on cardboard boxes?
A: Yes, if feasible. Removing all debris from recyclable items is ideal, as they have the best chance to end up as a recycled product.
Q: Can I recycle hot beverage cups if they are rinsed and clean?
A: NO, unfortunately. Virtually all of these cups have a plastic or waxed coating that makes them unrecyclable for most facilities! Black plastic lids cannot be recycled in our municipality either – even if they have a recycling symbol! So, use your own insulated reusable mug instead!
Q: What about paper towels and napkins?
A: Unfortunately, they cannot – except for the cardboard tube. However, most paper towels and serviettes can be composted.
Q: What are the three most important things I can do to help improve my recycling?
A: (1) Recycle everything that is acceptable in our municipality. (2) Empty and rinse (or wash) containers, so they are clean! Put items soiled with grease or food waste into garbage. (3) Sort carefully. Make sure that any garbage — and any plastic bags, grocery bags, plastic film or packaging — go in trash.
If you have your own questions, please send an email to and we will try to answer those in future articles.