Monday, February 16, 2009

Blue Box Blues

For those who think that the value of their mutual funds has taken a nosedive, consider how the price of recyclables has dropped during the last twelve months. According to Corporations Supporting Recycling (CSR), the per tonne price of aluminum cans has dropped from a high in February 2008 of $2,282 to a low of $1,082 in January 2009; steel cans have dropped from $416 to $31; plastic tubs from $295 to $6; newspapers from $169 to $38; cardboard from $148 to $29; and boxboard from $77 to $3.

Even with industry sharing half of the net cost of the province’s curbside recycling programs, this latest bit of bad news will have a profound impact on municipalities that are already under pressure to stretch their budgets and reduce costs. Geoff Rathbone, Manager of Toronto’s solid waste department estimates that recycling revenues for Canada’s largest city will drop from $20 million to $10 million. In neighboring Durham Region, Public Works Commissioner Cliff Curtis is predicting a drop in revenues from $4 million to $2 million.

“And that is taking an optimistic view,” said Curtis. While it’s unlikely that municipalities will cut the popular recycling programs, projects to expand and improve blue box programs will likely be cancelled. Some municipalities have even resorted to incinerating waste to avoid costly tipping fees at landfills. Niagara Region recently began shipping its undervalued recyclables to the Convanta Energy incinerator in Niagara Falls, New York. Other municipalities have chosen to stockpile recyclables, hoping for an upturn in the commodities market.

This latest round of bad news comes only weeks before Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO) is to submit its recommendations to Ontario’s Minister of the Environment in response to his request for a review of the existing blue box program. The Province established the WDO in 2002 to develop, implement and operate waste diversion programs for a wide range of materials. This latest report will be submitted to Minister Gerretsen on or before March 20, 2009.

The WDO’s first program was developed in 2003, and provided a funding formula to evenly share the net cost of curbside recycling programs with Stewardship Ontario, an organization that acts on behalf of the companies that contribute wastes to the blue box program.

The WDO’s latest report, currently available in draft form, is calling for industry to be fully responsible for recycling costs within five years. This would mean that the companies that profit from the sale of items that ultimately end up in the blue box would also pay for the cost of their disposal.

While on the surface this may seem like a good thing, it’s important to note that this only applies to items that end up in the blue box; effectively creating a financial penalty for companies that produced recyclable waste. For example, a company that produces cleaning chemicals such as window and household cleaners in recyclable containers currently pays 50 percent of the cost of recovering those containers. If the same company produces the same cleaner as a single-use wipe that cannot be recycled, it doesn’t have to contribute to the product’s disposal cost. It should also be noted that the cost of single-use products is at least ten times more than a comparable product packaged in recyclable containers.

Coincidentally, single use products were flooded onto the market just about the same time that industry was called into account for half the net cost of recycling. Thanks to aggressive marketing, these single-use products were successfully parlayed into a billion-dollar industry overnight. The producers of these products were exempted from any financial responsibility for disposing of the wastes that they generated. Just imagine what will happen if industry is forced to cover the full cost of recycling in the future.

As the saying goes, “It’s an ill wind that blows no good.” It’s important to remember that by focusing so much of our attention and resources on recycling, we’ve lost sight of the first two “R”s of waste management – Reduce and Reuse. Maybe this current economic downturn has provided us with an opportunity to add a 4th “R” – rethink.


Waste Diversion Ontario’s draft report, “Blue Box Program Plan Review” is available online at The final report will be delivered to the Minister of the Environment on March 20.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Celebrate the Home Hearth

It's time to congratulate ourselves. We have officially passed the halfway point of Old Man Winter's reign. Spring is less than six weeks away, and soon the white blanket outside will turn into the early brown mush of a new season. But if the thought another month (or more) of winter boots and icy weather makes you want to crawl into a nice warm space until it all goes away, do it. Rather than fight the urge to hibernate, why not give into the desire to curl up by the fire and forget about winter's last blast.

In ancient times, February was the month to celebrate the home hearth fire. When fuel and food supplies began to run low, our ancestors would gather around the hearth to share the warmth of the fire and conserve their energy. The warm fires inside were symbolic of the returning of the sun’s warming rays to the earth outside.

So, instead of rebelling when nature urges us to slow down, we should indulge ourselves. With Valentine’s Day only a week away, why not indulge our loved ones, too? Turn off the computer, television and other electronic stimuli and reignite your passionate self with the following suggestions:

Shower in the dark. I discovered this truly sensual delight completely by accident. Most days I'm up before the dawn, and on one particular occasion I clearly hadn't had enough sleep before the alarm awakened me. The thought of turning on the lights in the bathroom was more than my bloodshot eyes could bear, so I showered in the dark. It was such a delightful experience that I have made it a part of my daily routine ever since. One word of advice – make sure that you know the difference between the shampoo and conditioner before you start

One of the most sensual pleasures is bathing by candlelight. Pour yourself a glass of wine, light the candles and soak your cares away. If you're lucky enough to have a Jacuzzi or at least a large bathtub, you can save energy by sharing the tub with your partner.

If you're lucky enough to have a real fireplace, turn off the oven, throw a log on the fire, and have a romantic wiener roast, followed by a chocolate (organic please) fondue for two. It’s sensual, delicious and it warms the heart.

Read to each other by candlelight. Poetry is best.

Take the time to rediscover the joy of conversation. Unplug the phone and complete whole sentences. If you have small children, tell them stories about your own childhood, or invite their grandparents over to talk about life before cell phones, computers and the Internet.

Spend a day at the "beach" with your family. Pack up your bathing suits and enjoy an indoor swimming pool at your local recreational centre. (No sunscreen required!)

Cook up a giant pot of stew or soup in an energy saving slow cooker and let its aroma fill your home. Make enough for a couple of days so you can take a night off from cooking.

Have dinner by candlelight. This not only saves energy, but candlelight has a wonderful way of disguising our imperfections and illuminating our finest features. In the glow of candlelight, wrinkles disappear, leaving nothing but the sparkle in our eyes.

Use beeswax candles rather than regular wax candles, which are made from a petroleum by-product, a non-renewable resource. In addition, unlike beeswax candles, which burn cleanly, petroleum wax candles can release toxins into the air. For safety’s sake, use votives, hurricane or other glass enclosures when burning candles and don’t forget to blow them out at the end of your romantic evening.

Buy that book that you've always wanted to read and escape into someone else’s imagination. Go to bed early or snuggle late in bed. (I think there should be a law that nobody should get out of bed in the morning if it's dark!)

Flip through old family photos or organize those photos into albums. Research your family tree.

Listen to music and dance like nobody’s watching. It will warm your body and your soul. Before you know it, Spring will be here!


For more than 500 slow cooker recipes, check out

Research your family tree at

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Do What You Can

Everybody’s got one. It’s that pile of old paint cans, dead batteries and used motor oil that you can’t throw out with the garbage. So it just sits in the basement, attic or garage until you can figure out a time to haul it up to a hazardous waste dump near you.

The problem is, most facilities aren’t exactly located on the beaten path, and hours of operation are remarkably similar to the average workday. Since taking time off from work to get to the dump isn’t exactly an option for most, the pile continues to grow.

Enter Ontario’s Do What You Can Program. The new $ 28 million dollar program was officially launched last week, and it’s aimed at finding a convenient way for consumers to responsibly dispose of their household hazardous waste (known as Municipal Hazardous and Special Waste or MHSW). The goal is divert more than 32,000 tonnes of MHSW from the province’s landfills over the next five years, doubling the 16,000 tonnes that is currently collected.

The Program is being introduced in three phases. Phase 1 includes antifreeze, fertilizer, lubricating oil (30 liters or less), paints and coatings, pesticides, pressurized gas and propane containers, solvents and used oil filters. Phase 1 will also include single use dry cell batteries.

Phase 2 and 3 will include all other batteries (with the exception of lead batteries from vehicles), as well as aerosol containers, portable fire extinguishers, fluorescent light bulbs and tubes, switches, thermostats and other devices containing mercury, pharmaceuticals and syringes.

The good news is that the program won’t cost taxpayers a cent. Funding is being provided by Stewardship Ontario (SO), an industry association that will also be responsible for coordinating the new program. Stewardship Ontario gets the money to fund the program from the owners and importers of the products listed as MHSW. An agreed upon formula calculates what each company must contributed, based on each identified product.

The MHSW program is just one of many programs that have been established by Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO) a crown corporation that was created under the Waste Diversion Act in 2002. The WDO’s mandate is to develop, implement and operate waste diversion programs for a wide range of materials. Key to the WDO’s programs is industry accountability. For example, the WDO’s Blue Box program, which is also administered by Stewardship Ontario, requires that industries that contribute materials into the blue box pay 50 percent of the net cost of recycling.

Thanks to this newest program, Do What You Can, consumers will be able to drop off some of their MHSW, such as paint and single-use batteries at major retailers such as The Home Depot and Rona.

The program is a natural for Rona, a company that participated in setting up Canada’s first paint recovery and recycling company, Boomerang Paint, ten years ago. Since last July, Rona has diverted an estimated 600,000 pounds (approximately 275 metric tonnes) of used paint from Ontario’s landfills.

To coincide with last week’s launch, Jiffy Lube Auto Centres began accepting used oil filters, empty auto oil bottles, and antifreeze containers.

Stewardship Ontario will be responsible for picking up collected materials from retail partners and municipalities that collect MHSW through event days and permanent depots. The first priority will be to reuse or recycle materials. For materials that can’t be recovered, Stewardship Ontario will handle their disposal in an environmentally appropriate manner.

Stewardship Ontario will also be assisting municipalities to expand special event collection days, helping to make it more convenient to dispose of materials. Thanks to the program, Ontario municipalities will add an additional 6,000 days of service, through expanded hours at collection depots and special event days.

“We all have household products that can harm the environment if they are not disposed of properly,” said Peter Hume, President of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. “It’s up to all of us to do what we can to make sure that old paint, chemical solvents and used batteries aren’t sent to municipal landfills or poured down drains. All we are asking is that you help by doing what you can.”


It’s simple. Visit Choose the material that you want to recycle from the drop down menu, enter your postal code or community, and preferred distance from your home. The website also has some good tips under the heading Sensible Cautions for how to extend the life of paint, manage solvents, as well as store and dispose of other hazardous materials.

Boomerang products are made from unused portions of recovered domestic paint and stain remains. 1 percent of new material is added in order to provide adequate and consistent luster levels, viscosity and drying time.

Stewardship Ontario

Waste Diversion Ontario