Find out what is and isn’t accepted in the City’s recycling program below. When in doubt about how to properly dispose of something, ask the Waste Wizard.
Recycling helps to conserve natural resources, keep waste out of landfill and reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Despite changes in global recycling markets that have resulted in an oversupply of recycling material, with fewer markets where some materials can be sold, the City of Toronto’s Blue Bin recycling program remains strong. If you’re wondering if it’s still worth it to recycle, it is, and it’s increasingly important to recycle right.
The City is fortunate to have access to a lot of domestic recycling markets and is still able to sell its material to be made into something new. The majority of the material from the City’s Blue Bins (approximately 86% in 2021) goes to markets in Canada and the U.S. Only a small portion of the City’s recycling (about 14% in 2021) goes overseas and when it does, it is done through reputable brokers to ensure it is being recycled.
The City manages recycling from all single-family homes, about 60 per cent of the multi-residential sector and a limited number of non-residential establishments, such as small businesses. Last year, 100,939 tonnes of recycling collected through the Blue Bin program was sold to markets to be made into something new. Some statistics circulating over the past few years suggest that nothing actually gets recycled, and that plastics in particular have very low recycling rates. While recycling rates vary across different sectors, it’s important to note that residential recycling rates are typically much higher than those in the industrial, institutional and commercial sector. The City’s recycling rates overall and for plastics are actually quite high. The majority of the items (87% in 2021) put in the Blue Bin that are supposed to be there (i.e. accepted in the program) are recovered and shipped to markets to be made into something new. However, there is still the issue of a lot of material being put into Blue Bins that shouldn’t be (items not accepted in the recycling program). This is called recycling contamination.
Bad things happen when the wrong items are placed in the Blue Bin. How bad? Bad enough that it can damage equipment, cause workplace injuries at the recycling facility and ruin otherwise perfectly good recyclables. Contaminated recycling is currently costing the City millions annually. Approximately one third of what is put in the Blue Bin doesn’t belong there or was ruined as a result of the wrong items being put into the bin.
Note: all black and/or compostable plastic goes in the garbage.
Note: remove product before recycling.
*Place pieces smaller than a business card in envelope or add to bag of shredded paper.
Note: Food/drink packaging must be empty and rinsed (otherwise, place in garbage). Black foam items and pieces smaller than 10 cm (4″) x 10 cm (4″) go in the garbage).
Food scraps like apple cores, eggshells or expired leftovers belong in your Green Bin. When you mistakenly toss food scraps in your Blue Bin, food residue and particles get soaked up by paper and can ruin large batches of otherwise good recyclables.
Please empty and rinse food containers before tossing them in your Blue Bin. When you don’t, the residue from items like jars and take-out containers gets soaked up by paper and can ruin large batches of otherwise good recyclables. Put any food scraps in your Green Bin.
Old clothes, shoes, blankets, and curtains don’t belong in the Blue Bin. They can get caught in sorting machines, damage equipment and cause workplace injuries at the recycling facility. Instead, donate items that are in good condition to not-for-profit agencies or drop them off for reuse at Community Environment Days. If your items can’t be donated, put them in the garbage.
Most disposable hot beverage cups are made of paper, but lined with plastic, which makes them difficult to sort mechanically at the recycling facility. Conventional paper mills do not want coffee cups because of their low-quality paper and inner liner, which does not pulp easily and causes clogging in the pulping process. The dyes in the paper can also affect the quality of the end paper product and make it difficult for paper mills to turn cups into other paper-based products. As a result, the City has not been able to find a stable market (i.e. buyers) for coffee cups. Please place coffee cups in the garbage. Non-black plastic lids and paper sleeves should be removed and placed in the Blue Bin.
Black plastic of any kind, such as take-out containers and black garbage bags, is not accepted in the City’s recycling program. There are two main reasons for this:
Please dispose of all black plastic in the garbage.
These do not go in your Blue Bin. They can get tangled in sorting machines, damage equipment and cause workplace injuries at the recycling facility. Donate unwanted VHS tapes or see if your local electronics store’s has a recycling program. Throw unwanted cords, hoses and cables in your garbage.
The City does not accept coffee pods in its Blue Bin recycling program, as coffee grounds are often left within them, which can ruin other items in the bin, such as paper and cardboard, making them no longer recyclable. All coffee pods, including those that are labelled or marketed as recyclable, must be disposed of in the garbage or returned to retailers/manufacturers who have take-back programs.
The City commissioned research related to disposal of single-serve coffee and tea pods. The findings include feedback from Toronto residents about use, attitudes and disposal behaviours.
The City does not accept the following items marketed or labelled as compostable or biodegradable in its Blue Bin recycling program:
These items, which may be made of or lined with a bio-based plastic, must be disposed of in the garbage. Alternatively, products can be returned to retailers/manufacturers who have take-back programs.
Compostable and biodegradable plastics are not recyclable, as they are made of materials that are meant to break down versus materials that can be made into something new. Once recyclables are collected and sorted, they are baled and sold to partially offset the cost of collecting and separating recycling. At the recycling facility, compostable and biodegradable plastics get mixed with conventional plastics. When this happens, it lowers the quality of the plastic bales making them less valuable and more difficult to sell.
Recycling is collected from the curb or a building and brought to one of the City’s Transfer Stations. From there, it is loaded onto tractor-trailers and brought to a Material Recovery Facility in Toronto owned by Green For Life Environmental Inc., which the City contracts to process its recycling.
Once at the Material Recovery Facility, the recycling is manually and mechanically sorted – using a series of belts and conveyors, screens, magnets, optical sorting and AI systems – into the different types of materials, such as plastics, paper, aluminum and glass. The different types of materials are then baled and sold to re-processors/markets to be made into something new. The money that the City gets from the sale of recyclables is only enough to partially offset the cost to run the recycling program.
The City of Toronto’s recycling system remains strong. The majority of the items put in the Blue Bin that are supposed to be there (i.e. accepted in the program) are recovered and shipped to markets to be made into something new.
The benefits of EPR include:
In spring 2021, the City of Toronto installed new lids on 300 recycling bins in parks across the city. The new bin lids have a hole to exclusively capture empty beverage cans and bottles. Stickers adhered to the bins and signage beside the bins indicate what items are accepted and not accepted in the recycling bins.
While the City works to divert as much waste as possible from landfill, the material in public recycling bins is often heavily contaminated with non-recyclable items, such as containers with food and liquid in them, coffee cups, black plastic and pet waste. When this happens, much of the recycling is ruined, sending it to landfill.
The goal of this pilot project is to increase the amount of material the City can recycle from parks. Data collected from the pilot will be used to determine whether dedicated bins for bottles and cans can contribute to a long-term strategy to reduce contamination and increase the amount of recycling collected from park bins.