Why I’m happy to sort my waste and recycling

When I first moved to the Netherlands, nearly all the waste we produced went straight into the garbage. You can imagine how frustrated that made me! Now that I’ve sort of figured out the waste and recycling systems, we’ve managed to reduce the amount of stuff we put into the garbage by about half. I’ve still got some learning to do, but hope to reduce our waste by another half in the coming year – new years resolution #2 (after finding a job!)

My former hometown of Toronto uses a single stream recycling system, where residents put all of their recyclables – paper, plastic, metals, and glass – into a single bin. The municipality collects these bins and takes them to a materials recovery facility (MRF) where they’re sorted back into their respective types for recycling. Many municipalities use a single-stream system because it’s convenient for their residents to use the recycling bin – almost as easy as using the trash can. Costs for a single-stream system are lower though processing costs are higher.

The biggest problem with single stream systems is contamination, resulting in lower scrap material quality and lower revenues for the recyclers. There is a particular concern that broken glass can get into the paper stream and mess with the paper mill and that bits of wet paper can get into everything. About a quarter of single-stream recycling goes to the dump, for glass, waste can be as high as 40%.

The system used here is a multi-stream recycling system. It’s more efficient for processors than a single-stream system because the majority of materials have already been sorted, and contamination levels are significantly less, eliminating waste and expense of removal.

In our apartment, we separate plastic bottles for a deposit refund, other plastic, paper, compost and glass from our garbage.

Why I don't mind sorting my waste & recycling

The garbage, compost, and other plastics are collected bi-weekly by the municipality. We take everything else to the grocery store, which acts as a sort of small waste depot. There you can find a place to deal with glass, paper, containers with a deposit, grease, batteries and light bulbs.

In the parking lot, you’ll find receptacles for glass, sorted into white, green & brown, and paper.

Why I don't mind sorting my waste & recycling

There’s also several bins for clothing donations.

Why I don't mind sorting my waste & recycling

Inside, you can find a machine where you can return beer bottles and plastic bottles for a deposit refund.

Why I don't mind sorting my waste and recycling

This machine scans the barcodes and prints out a ticket that can be redeemed at the cash register.

Why I don't mind sorting my waste & recycling

At the cash register is where you’ll find the containers for light bulbs, batteries and grease.

Why I don't mind sorting my waste & recycling

Since so many people go to the grocery store regularly, it’s not out of the way to take plastic, glass, and paper from time to time. If you’re like me, it’s more a problem to remember to do it than actually to do it!

If you’re interested in learning more about how single stream recycling works, I’d recommend taking a quick glance at this short NPR story from earlier this year.