Tuesday, June 23, 2009

the 4 Rs ...

... reduce, reuse, recycle and rethink.

Bear with me, this is going to be a long one — but for good reason.

Husband and I attended the waste management meeting in our apartment building because they were giving out free gifts we wanted to learn best recycling and composting practices — especially since we found out that 67 per cent of the trash being put out by residents of our building should actually be composted or recycled.

Kathy Johnston, the self-proclaimed Recycling Princess of HRM, came to our building on behalf of the city to educate us and only six people showed up — including the residential manager, her granddaughter, Husband and I. How sad is that turn out? There are 120 units in our building, some of them housing four or more people.

Turns out Husband and I were both guilty of not knowing all of the rules. Husband's a stickler about putting all plastic in the blue bag, but it turns out, only No. 1 & 2 of the seven types of plastic can be recycled in our city. All others go in the trash. Johnston's reminder: 1 and 2 go in the blue. Add a little cha, cha tune behind that rhyme if it helps.

Sometimes, in an effort to conserve, I wash out food containers (yogurt, etc.) and use them to store leftovers. Bad idea. All plastic breaks down. Even No. 5, which is the most durable type, will eventually break down into your food. And never microwave food in plastic. You know all those clear containers that are stained orange? That's because some of the plastic particles melted into your food during heating and were replaced with spaghetti sauce. Delish.

The same logic goes for bottled water. The plastic eventually breaks down. So many people thing they prefer the taste of bottled water to tap water — that taste is plastic!

Want to do a science experiment? Get a hot Tim Hortons coffee. Let it sit until it's cold. Pour it out and refill the cup with hot coffee. That second cup, according to Johnston, will leak. It's because after being heated up by the first cup of hot coffee, the plastic broke down. Where do you think the plastic went? Right into your coffee. I've often heard people complain that making Tim Hortons brand coffee at home doesn't taste the same. Probably because there's no plastic in it.

— Of note: Coffee cups are always garbage, even the ones that seem like they're only made of paper.

And the "reusable" totes that we're all buying for our groceries? Not recyclable. When they rip, wear or break, they're garbage. Plastic grocery bags were recyclable all along. They go right in the blue bag. Now, we have to use the reusable bags or pay 5 cents each for the plastic sacks. A little counterintuitive, no?

Recycling doesn't have to be as complicated as people think. Just separate bottles and cans from paper and bundle cardboard separately.

— Surprising discovery: You don't need to remove staples or tape from paper or the clear plastic windows on envelopes before recycling.

By inspecting our building's compost bin on a daily basis, Johnston deduced that about three or four people in our building are composting. That's it. At least, starting last night, Husband and I can add ourselves to that number. Johnston provided us with lots of info and tips for this:

— Boxboard, this means cracker, cereal, pasta boxes and the like, are compostable.
— Cat poop is not.
— Use a coffee can with a tight-fitting lid to keep the compost in; this keeps the smells within the container and it's small enough for an apartment-sized kitchen.
— Keep the compost can in the fridge to keep the food waste from breaking down as quickly and thus preventing oders.

At the end of the 45-minute session, we left with a hand full of blue bags, a nifty magnetic clip to hold our recycling guide on our fridge, and a bucket load of knowledge about how to preserve the Earth.


  1. Great tips! Especially the ones about plastic.

  2. And I should mention that Lacey, who commented above, also posted on this subject. Thanks for the link!

  3. I have to laugh a bit at your post, not that it isn't extreemly informative but rather that Kathy Johnston is my sister and yes she is excellent at her job. I can just see her singing one, two into the blue, cha cha cha! I actually learned a few tips from your post that she hasn't told me - I will have to get her to do an presentation for the next time I see her!

  4. I wish we had someone in my area who would do a presentation like this! I had no idea cereal boxes were compostable!

  5. Dear Magchunk.... There probably is someone like me in your area to give you the best recycling/composting advice for your area. Every area has a different set of rules when it comes to recycling/composting because of program design and markets available to that area/population. Ask with your municipality/province. If can help if you want.

    Kathy Johnston

  6. reduce, reuse, recycle and replace