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If Canadian trash is turning into a diplomatic headache, why can’t we dispose of it ourselves?

May 2, 2019

A spokesperson for the Filipino president was unequivocal in his message: get Canadian trash out of the Philippines or risk jeopardizing seven decades of diplomatic relations.

Trash might seem like an odd thing for Canada to risk an international snafu over, begging the question: why don’t we just get rid of our own recycling instead of shipping it to the other side of the planet?

The answer to what seems like a simple question is actually quite complex, says Sally Krigstin, a professor in the University of Toronto’s faculty of forestry.

It has to do with the quality of the so-called recyclable materials you toss in the blue bin, what else accidentally gets mixed in there, the processing capacity of the facility its shipped to for sorting, and whether there’s still a market to sell crumpled aluminum cans and day-old newspapers (a Global News investigation this week shows there isn’t, really).

But the real impediment, Krigstin says, is actually just people.

“The public is genuinely interested, but the biggest issue is for them to understand,” she says. They need to know: Recycling used to be simple, Krigstin explains. Remember when the glass jars went into one box, the cans went in another, and the paper and cardboard in yet another?

“We used to have a better sorting system,” she says. Now, we dump it all into one blue box –– adding in a few extra items that often aren’t actually recyclable –– and ship it elsewhere to sort.

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