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.
Why It’s Worth It to Recycle and Important to Recycle Right
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.
Where does Toronto’s recycling go?
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.
How much of what is collected in the City’s recycling program gets shipped to market?
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.
Why is it important to recycle right?
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.
Items Accepted in the Blue Bin (Recycling)
Five Items That Always Go in Recycling
Bottles, jars (lids on)
Food jars, tubs (lids on)
Clear food containers/clamshells (e.g. from berries, vegetables, mixed greens)
Put items in loose and not bagged. Use a clear plastic bag only if necessary.
Prepare containers in 3 easy steps:
empty food, liquids or other contents
rinse to remove any residue
place lid/cap on (including sprayers and pumps)
Place all black and/or compostable plastic (e.g. food containers, bags, cutlery) in the garbage.
Flexible multi-layered packaging (e.g. stand-up pouches) and plastic-lined paper
(e.g. instant oatmeal packs) go in the garbage. To check if paper is lined with plastic, rip it slowly. If you see any plastic lining, the item goes in the garbage.
Separate plastic bags/over-wrap from newspapers, flyers, magazines, water/soft drink cases. Recycle separately.
Put shredded paper in a clear plastic bag.
Put pieces of paper the size of a business card or smaller in an envelope or add to clear bag of shredded paper.
Put foam pieces smaller than 10 cm (4″) x 10 cm (4″) in the garbage.
Not all items with a recycling symbol are accepted in Toronto’s Blue Bin recycling program.
If unsure about whether or not an item can be recycled, check Waste Wizard.
Common Recycling Mistakes
Food and organic waste
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.
Containers with leftover food
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.
Clothing and textiles
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.
Hot beverage cups
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:
there is no stable market for the volume of black plastic generated in Toronto
black plastic cannot be sorted mechanically at the recycling facility because the optical sorting technology cannot recognize it.
Please dispose of all black plastic in the garbage.
VHS tapes, chains, hoses and electrical cords
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.
Important Information About Coffee Pods and Compostable and Biodegradable Items
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.
Compostable and biodegradable items
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.
Why the City doesn’t accept compostable and biodegradable items in the Blue Bin
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.
What Happens to Recycling?
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.
Transition of the Recycling Program to Extended Producer Responsibility
EPR will make producers fully accountable for the packaging and paper they put into the Ontario marketplace and shift the operational and financial responsibilities of recycling away from municipalities.
The shift to EPR will take place in two phases: the transition phase and the post-transition phase.
Throughout the transition phase, which will take place from July 1, 2023 to December 31, 2025, all Ontario municipalities will transition their Blue Box Programs to EPR.
The City of Toronto will be one of the first municipalities to transition to EPR in year one on July 1, 2023.
The post-transition phase will begin January 1, 2026.
On February 7, 2023, City Council considered and approved a report from staff that provided an overview of the agreement.
Acting as a recycling service provider throughout the EPR transition will help to ensure a seamless experience for Toronto residents and allow the City to retain jobs and recover recycling costs.
The City is well positioned to take on this role with the necessary waste management infrastructure in place and decades of experience running one of the largest and most comprehensive recycling programs in North America.
Toronto residents should not experience any changes to their Blue Bin recycling program during the transition years (2023 – 2025).
The greatest change to the City’s integrated waste management system will take place in 2026 when producers have fully taken over all municipal Blue Box programs and begin to implement a standardized program.
Producers are working to design what the standardized Blue Box Program will look like in 2026 after all municipal programs have transitioned.
The City has a dedicated EPR team that is actively working to prepare for Toronto’s transition and its role as a service provider and to advocate for the best interests of the City and residents throughout the transition time period and beyond.
Benefits of EPR
The benefits of EPR include:
standardization of what is accepted in the Blue Box across the province as of 2026 when producers have fully taken over recycling.
potential reduction and/or innovation in packaging
cost savings for the City
potential for increased waste diversion from landfill once recovery targets come into effect in 2026 and onwards.
Recycling Beverage Container Pilot in Parks
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.
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 designed 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.
Data collected from the beverage bin pilot determined that 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. The volume of recyclable materials found in beverage bins was highest at sports fields.
In spring 2023, the City installed beverage bins at premium sports fields across Toronto. The goal of installing bins at sports fields is to increase the amount of material the City can recycle from areas that generate the most beverage cans and bottles.