Toronto recycling: ‘Green’ packaging alternatives causing complications
Rose Reisman manages a successful Toronto catering company and kids lunch business, but when she was recently chosen to provide hot lunches at Adam Beck Jr. Public School – an “Eco-Platinum” school — the eco-committee, along with school administrators and parent volunteers, asked Reisman to look into alternatives to the single-use plastic meal containers she was using.
Reisman investigated the options and within a couple of months, she made the decision to go “green.”
“We’ve changed over not only to our kids program but to our corporate program — everything we are doing is compostable,” said Reisman.
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With the exception of some recyclable aluminum containers, the vast majority of her new packaging line is made up of biodegradable, compostable and sustainable products.
The company that supplies Reisman’s new packaging line is called “Green Shift.”
“I think there is a global awareness that’s coming about,” said Green Shift founder Jennifer Wright.
The City of Toronto manages approximately 180,000 tonnes of recyclables annually through its blue bin recycling program but when it comes to plastics, reports reveal only about nine per cent of the world’s plastic waste gets recycled. It’s why eco-conscious citizens are looking for alternatives to plastic.
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But almost as soon as Reisman and the Adam Beck school community started to feel good about the new, compostable packaging products, they were faced with the fact that some of the biodegradable packaging products cannot be processed as part of the City of Toronto’s green bin program.
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“In our digesters where all the materials get broken down, it stays in that stage for approximately 15 to 20 days. The compostable, biodegradable packaging will likely not break down in that time period and then it will adversely impact the quality of the compost material we are trying to create,” said Vincent Sferrazza, director of policy, planning and support in the City of Toronto’s solid waste management services.
The paper fibre containers and napkins are fine for the green bin but the clear, vegetable plastics must be thrown into the garbage and sent to landfill.
“So the challenge for composters is it’s a thick material, so it won’t break down as quickly as they would like it to. But the nice thing is when it does break down, there is nothing harmful here,” said Wright.
The other problem for the City is increased confusion because clear, vegetable-based containers look like petroleum plastic and if these get into the blue bin, contamination can ruin the batch. The City of Toronto said it’s up to the stakeholders.
“If industry can agree to standardize the use of the material to create the package, then I could easily educate the residents of Toronto that the packaging belongs either in the blue bin or in the green bin,” said Sferrazza.
But Wright said she believes the real “green” shift will only happen at the federal level.
“I think we need to stop wasting time and money at the provincial (level), and particularly the municipal level, where we are doing band-aid solutions within a broken system,” said Wright.
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