Open letter published in the "BUSINESS" section of La Presse on January 31, 2022
Some 25 years ago, Quebecers became aware of the impact of their consumption on the environment, and it wasn’t long after that municipalities set up collection systems to recover raw materials. Once recycled, these materials found a new use and a new value. Thus, the recycling loop was born, symbolized by the big bells in which Montrealers placed their containers, or the famous bins that lined the sidewalks at dawn.
With the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement’s (BAPE) recent report on final residues drawing promising conclusions, it’s time to reclaim this loop. We need to relearn how our actions as individuals have consequences; rather than acting on reflex, we need to act consciously and green.
Last July, Ricova published a report highlighting the risks posed by lithium batteries and other electronic waste when they are nonchalantly put in the recycling bin. Last November, a fire paralyzed operations at the Lachine sorting center, putting workers’ safety at serious risk. A shocking demonstration of objects that should not be recycled!
Every day, other objects that are difficult to recycle, if not impossible to recycle at all, also interfere with the operations of Quebec’s sorting centers. These include the notorious plastic bags that block sorting equipment. For years, municipalities have been doing their best to reduce their use or have banned them completely; some retailers have contributed to the war effort by ceasing to offer them. How is it that bans are never formalized, despite there being few options for recycling? I’m nostalgic for the easy-to-recycle kraft paper bags of the past.
The circular economy – an idea that should be more than just a fad – is more complicated than the recycling loop. We’re surprised that bales of recovered materials cross the planet to be processed in Asia. We send them there because that’s where the boxes used to package the products manufactured there are produced.
In Quebec, voices are being raised in favor of more responsible consumption. This is the road towards a circular economy. Let us buy locally manufactured products that uses recycled materials from here, rather than from the other side of the world. Let us regulate packaging to simplify the materials used. Here is a recent and eloquent example: how do you expect our sorting center teammates to intercept, at high speed, a box of those potato chips that are packaged in a cardboard tube featuring a moustachioed man, with a metal bottom and a plastic lid? Cardboard, metal and plastic – three materials that are difficult to separate efficiently by hand in our Quebec sorting centers.
By consuming better, by recycling the right items and, yes, by separating, for example, the plastic cap from the glass bottle, we can all get closer to zero waste. Everyone, from sorting centers to manufacturers to consumers, must play their part in the great recycling loop.
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