Nova Scotia

When you don't clean that empty peanut butter jar, it costs the taxpayer

With more of a global focus on plastic — and where it can and can't be sold — the Cape Breton Regional Municipality wants residents to remember that what they're throwing out has actual value.

Food residue the No. 1 culprit for contaminating viable plastic products

Last fiscal year, Cape Breton Regional Municipality received $800,000 from the sale of recyclable materials, but it lost out on an estimated $30,000 because of contaminated items. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

With more of a global focus on plastic — and where it can and can't be sold — Cape Breton Regional Municipality wants residents to remember that what they're throwing out has actual value. 

"Not everything that we're going to toss away is considered garbage," said Rochelle Clarke, the education co-ordinator for CBRM's solid waste department.

Recycling should be the last option — Clarke strongly encourages people to reduce and reuse first — but when you do recycle, make sure there's no food residue left, she said. 

"We want to make sure we have good quality materials that we're sending off to the different markets." 

$30K lost due to contamination 

Last fiscal year, CBRM received $800,000 from the sale of recyclable materials. But it potentially lost $30,000 in revenue because some items were contaminated. 

Food residue is the No. 1 culprit for contaminating viable plastic product for markets. The top problem items landing in the garbage that should be recycled are peanut butter jars and canned tomato sauce. 

Clarke said people often don't clean their plastic peanut butter containers because they're sticky and take more effort to rinse. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

"People don't like to rinse those containers out because they are gooey, they are sticky and they do take a little more effort to rinse out," said Clarke. 

Clarke said some people complain cleaning those types of containers can waste water, but she said people can wash them along with their dishes. 

Dos and don'ts of recycling

She said they do, however, try to have reasonable goals for what residents will wash. 

"We don't expect people to rinse off anything that comes into contact with meats, fishes or poultry," said Clarke. 

Along with the required rinsing, another big no-no is stacking tin cans or stuffing smaller plastic items into larger plastic containers, even if everything involved is recyclable. 

Stuffing smaller plastic items into larger plastic containers is a recycling no-no. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

"We want residents to place the materials loosely in the blue bags," said Clarke.

Typical items put in the garbage that could and should be recycled include the paper cylinders from toilet paper and paper towels. 

Clarke also said shampoo, conditioner and body-wash bottles all too often are not rinsed and put in blue recycling bags.  

Plastic lids can be recycled, but coffee cups can't. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

Other noteworthy rules for CBRM:

  • Containers with a mixture of materials — including plastic and waxy heavy paper — are regular garbage. 
  • Plastic coffee cup lids are recyclable, but the cup is garbage.
  • Pizza boxes, depending on their condition, are either recyclable paper or for the green bin, but not garbage. 
Not everything people toss away is garbage, Clarke says. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

While these are the rules for CBRM, Clarke said each municipality has different capabilities, so it's best to check when you're visiting somewhere else. 

Clarke said whenever people are in doubt about an item, they should call CBRM's waste management hotline, rather than just put it in the garbage. 

"We have to change the way we think about garbage," she said.


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