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Diversion Tactics: Recycling is a price-driven industry

Most Canadians recycle, but why don't we recycle as much as we could?

Dec 19, 2013

Statistics Canada data shows that 97 per cent of Canadians recycle, but studies also show that those same people don’t recycle nearly everything they could. In fact, one estimate pegs the amount of waste we throw into landfills at 75 per cent, despite much of it being, well, recyclable.

What gives? Well, Jennifer Argo, a marketing professor at the University of Alberta, has found one reason why. Turns out it’s linked to value. A study Argo recently co-published found we chuck recyclable products that we consider damaged, like a dented pop can, into trash cans rather than blue boxes.

The finding clearly irks Argo’s inner conservationist (“Regardless of how small a piece of paper is and no matter how dented, damaged or cut up our packaging has become, our go-to for disposal should be the blue bin, not the trash can,” she says) but has also led her to suggest changes to packaging. Most retail packaging currently requires you to destroy it in some way to get at the goodies inside; that, in turns means you’re more likely to throw the packaging in the trash than in the blue box. Make packaging less prone to destruction, Argo says, and you make it more worthy,
in people’s eyes, of recycling.

Where Does Alberta’s Recycling Go?

Alberta’s return rate of 81.7 per cent for beverage containers, one of the most valuable recycled materials, is the highest in Canada. But where did the more than 1.8 billion beverage containers Alberta recycled in 2012 go? And what happened to them?

Glass Bottles
Shipped to Vitreous Glass, Airdrie; Crushed, shipped to fibreglass plants in the province.

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Plastic Containers
Shipped to Merlin Plastics, Calgary; High-density polyethelene containers are shipped to Merlin Plastics’ facility in Vancouver while all so-called PET containers (ones made from a lower-density material called polyethylene terephthalate – say that three times quickly) stay in Calgary. All containers are cleaned and ground, with more than 90 per cent of sales of the final product remaining in North America.

Tetra packs, gable top (think milk cartons)
Shipped to The Paper Tigers, Illinois; Processed and sent to a mill in Michigan; Ground and processed into tissue paper.

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