When Toronto met the blue box in 1988

By recycling aluminum cans rather than making new ones, Ontario hoped to cut down on the industrial scourge of acid rain.

Recycling program hoped to divert up to 15 per cent of waste from the garbage dump

Residents are still getting used to the idea of separating glass and paper from their garbage in 1988. 2:36

It was a big day for Toronto when residents could stop sending their empty glass bottles and old newspapers to the landfill.

"Big blue plastic boxes are becoming a familiar sight on the curbsides of Ontario," said host Peter Mansbridge on The National on Nov. 3, 1988.

"The idea is to separate glass and metal containers and put them in the blue boxes to be picked up on garbage day."

He added that environmentalists had been calling for the measure "for decades."

The case for glass

What went into the blue box was not entirely clear to all homes. "We've got paper and garbage," said a waste collector picking up blue boxes at the launch of the recycling program. (The National/CBC Archives)

A key reason for the initiative, according to reporter Eve Savory, was that recycling waste like glass had become both economically viable and environmentally desirable.

"We're very keen on trying to recycle as much container glass as possible," said Cathy Cirko, of a company called Consumer Glass, as she stood in front of a heap of green and clear glass vessels.

Municipalities were similarly keen, said Savory, due to the dwindling availability of landfill space.

"Recycling has become the politically correct thing to do," she noted.

The Ontario city of Kitchener had already been able to recycle glass and paper for five years, and Toronto was just getting with the program.

Paper and aluminum, too

Mascots including a plastic bottle, a stack of newspapers and a green glass bottle were present at a party celebrating the distribution of one million blue boxes in Ontario. (The National/CBC Archives)

The environmental reasons were compelling.

"One ton of recycled paper saves 17 trees," said Savory, adding that Ontario threw away 1,000 tons of paper every day.

And by recycling cans, rather than smelting the material for new ones, the province hoped to cut down on 95 per cent of the emissions from aluminum production.

"Our environment is being saved more than 5,000 tons of acid rain-causing pollutants a year," said Ontario Premier David Peterson.

In total, Savory said, recycling programs meant 10 to 15 per cent of household garbage was being turned into "useful goods" instead.