WATCH — Think recycling is working? Think again

Saara Chaudry
Story by Saara Chaudry and CBC Kids News • 2019-10-21 07:30

It’s time to think about reducing along with recycling

If you’re like most Canadian kids, you sort your garbage and put plastic in the recycling.

And you feel good knowing you’re doing something positive for the planet.

But it may surprise you to know that only nine per cent of all the plastic we use in Canada actually gets recycled.

CBC’s Marketplace recently did an investigation into this to find out where exactly that plastic was going and what was happening to it.

Turns out a lot of it is being shipped overseas to countries like Malaysia.

“We found shipping containers full at ports,” said Marketplace reporter David Common. “We went to big, giant, like multi-storey mountains that are just filled with plastic, a lot of it from North America.”

A man standing in a pile of plastic garbage wearing rubber gloves

CBC Marketplace reporter David Common found piles of plastic that had been shipped from overseas in Malaysia. (Eric Szeto/CBC)

Why is this happening?

Common said it’s because Canada doesn’t have the capacity to recycle all the plastic we use.

“If you have a water bottle, you don't want it to cost more than the cost of a water bottle to recycle it [so] you send it to a place like Malaysia,” he said.

But shipping it overseas doesn’t guarantee it’s going to get recycled either.

Common found plastic piling up in mountains, plastic being burned and plastic floating down rivers.

Plastic pollutes waterways

Plastic is contaminating rivers in Malaysia. (Eric Szeto/CBC)

“It costs more to recycle it sometimes than the product is worth,” he said. “And so those recyclers will take the most valuable parts, they'll reprocess that. Anything else they burn.”

That creates huge clouds of smoke that are damaging to people’s health.

What’s the solution?

Common said we shouldn’t stop recycling, but we should also find ways to use less plastic in the first place.

You can do that by using things like reusable water bottles and reusable bags.

David Common tells Saara Chaudry that it’s important to recycle, but also to reduce waste. (CBC)

But part of the nine per cent figure mentioned above also applies to plastic that you don’t even think to put in your blue bin — like packaging from things you buy regularly.

So it’s also important to try to buy products that use less plastic in the first place.

“Does this package need to have that much plastic? Do I need to buy it?” Common asked.

He said those are things to think about when trying to reduce plastic.

To learn more about the plastic found in Malaysia, check out this video:


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About the Contributor

Saara Chaudry
Saara Chaudry
CBC Kids News Contributor
Saara is passionate about having a positive impact on the world, whether it's within her community, on the big screen, or in her role as a CBC Kids News contributor. The Grade 12 student from Toronto played Little Cosette in Les Miserables, Howie on Max & Shred, Dana's older sister on Dino Dana, and Martina Crowe on The Mysterious Benedict Society. Outside of film and media, Saara is an award-winning international debater and public speaker. She is the current Ontario Debate and Public Speaking Champion. She is also a vociferous advocate for gender and racial equality, as well as girls' education. Saara was recently appointed a UNICEF Canada Youth Advocate in 2020.