One stream, three streams. Blue stream, green stream.

4213-GREENCORNERBy Neale McDevitt

You’d figure that at an institution of higher learning, basic information would be easily assimilated by the community – especially if that information is conveniently colour-coded. Unfortunately, such is not always the case when it comes to McGill’s campus recycling program. Confusion still leads to large quantities of high-quality recyclable material being contaminated or dumped into the garbage. In either case, it will wind up as landfill.

“The biggest stumbling block seems to be that people aren’t aware that at McGill we have three streams for waste material,” said Dennis Fortune, Director, Office of Sustainability. “Blue for paper and cardboard; green for plastic and glass; and black for garbage.”

The confusion is exacerbated by the fact Montreal only has two streams. All recyclable materials – plastic, paper and glass – are lumped into one box and put curbside. The City then carts the refuse to sorting depots where materials are separated.

McGill’s uses the three-stream method in order to increase the quality of its recyclable material and reduce its overall waste management costs. By being able to bypass the middleman sorting centres, McGill can send its high-quality paper recyclables directly to the paper reclamation centre. “Much of what comes out of the University is high-fibre office paper that is of high value because of its good reuse value,” said Fortune.

“We get credit for our recyclable products that, in turn, helps reduce our overall cost for waste management.”

Contamination is a major issue with most recycling programs. Greasy pizza boxes and foodstuffs left in recyclable containers can render useless a whole batch of otherwise good paper and plastic.

But in McGill’s case, that contamination doesn’t just originate with food containers. If too much plastic or glass gets thrown into the blue paper stream, “the whole 200-gallon bin,” will be diverted to the garbage because the paper processing centres aren’t equipped to do much sorting.

“It’s doubly wasteful,” said Fortune “because the effort of 99 people to respect the bin requirements can be undone by the carelessness of two people.”

Fortune is hoping that people will be more vigilant when it comes to following the colour-coded waste streams. Rather than take a chance on contaminating entire batches, he recommends that people toss dubious material directly into the garbage. This includes reports – something McGill produces on a large scale – bound by metal or plastic fasteners. Ideally, people will remove the fasteners and recycle the high-value paper but if they don’t have the time it is better to scrap it altogether.