Trying to Recycle Everything Comes at a High Cost

May 11, 2018 Last Updated: May 11, 2018

Trying to recycle everything—including hard-to-recycle items like coffee pods and cigarette butts—can come at a high cost.

Squeeze pouches for babies are creating a tonne of garbage. To ease her guilt, one mother collects them and ships them to a private recycling program.

Cities are now collecting a growing amount of mixed plastic products, ranging from cereal bags and shiny food wrappers to cigarette butts, which carry a thin layer of plastic in their filters. They’re simply too expensive to recycle.

Some Canadians send their complex packaging to private companies to process. (Screen shot / CBC)

Recycling Businesses Take on the Problem

Businesses like TerraCycle act like a go-between, approaching companies making hard-to-recycle products and asking them to pay the cost of recycling. In return consumers can send the products off to a private recycling plant for free, and they feel good about it.

But it’s a tricky business. The more products Canadians send back for specialized recycling, the higher the cost to the company. Some product makers then pull the plug on the program saying it’s just too expensive.

“From our perspective we would like everything to be recycled,” Jessica Panetta, of TerraCycle Canada, told the CBC. “We’d like to collect as much as we can. But the reality is there is a cost to it.”

Spokesperson for TerraCycle, Jessica Panetta says the reality of recycling is that it comes with a cost. (Screen shot / CBC)

Who is Willing to Pay the Price?

It’s not cost effective for cities or companies to actually pay the high cost of recycling complex packaging.

“Packaging producers are trying to have their cake and eat it too,” Calvin Lakhan of York University told the CBC.

“They are generating materials that are saving them on logistics, transportation, storage, and then they’re communicating to households that this material is recyclable. When in reality, if we look at the recycling rates, it’s less than 5 percent.”

Reduce and Re-use

Experts say what we really need to do is to do is reduce the amount of stuff we are buying, and re-use what we have.

Marie-Josee Boulet, a school teacher in Stanstead, Quebec, says her classroom is part of the program, but she emphasizes to her students that they reuse. She says she feels she was encouraging others to buy applesauce pods. So she started a campaign to urge children to stop bringing pods, and start bringing apples.

Wasteful habits are hard to break. Some provinces are now putting it back on product makers, making them responsible for the public cost of disposal or recycling of their own products, hoping that the bottom line will force better decision making on what they offer people and our planet.