Green living and sustainability: how to clean and recycle
Interested in sustainability and green living but not sure where to start? Each Monday, David Suzuki's Queen of Green column responds to questions about how how to live a more eco-friendly life. Below are previous questions about cleaning and recycling.
1. How can I get rid of drywall from my recent home reno?
Calvin of Vancouver, BC
Whatever you do, do not put drywall (also known as gypsum board, wallboard, plasterboard, gypboard and sheetrock) into your residential garbage bins. Drywall is actually recyclable.
Gypsum Recycling International estimates that 40 tons of gypsum waste is land-filled around the globe each day. Search for a waste transfer station in your city that accepts gypsum drywall.
Residents of Vancouver can drop off "residential quantities" of drywall at any regional transfer station or at the Vancouver Landfill. A "residential quantity" means one level pick-up truckload or less. If you have a large load, contact New West Gypsum Recycling or Ecowaste Industries recycle all non-asbestos-containing drywall from the region into new gypsum drywall.
Make sure that your drywall does not contain asbestos. To dispose of gypsum drywall containing asbestos, call 604-RECYCLE (in Vancouver) for disposal options.
While you're at it, check out how to recycle wood waste, too. Clean, unpainted, untreated wood waste can now be recycled at transfer stations and the Vancouver Landfill. Wood waste is added to the yard trimmings pile. Clean and some treated wood are also accepted at Urban Wood Waste Recyclers' plant in South Vancouver.
Did you know you can also recycle asphalt shingles? They can be dropped off at a few facilities around Vancouver. Find the location closets to you at Metro Vancouver Recycles listed under "Building Materials — Roofing / Shingles".
2. All car seats are stamped with an expiration date, but what's a family to do with old, expired car seats? We have three sitting in our garage, and our regular recycling program won't take them — even if I strip them down to the plastic. I hate to think of dumping them into the landfill because it seems so wasteful. Any suggestions?
Melanie of St. Albert, Alberta
I must admit this question initially had me stumped. I'd never heard of anyone recycling a child's car seat before. And after a few inquiries I now understand why. It's near impossible.
The City of Edmonton's "Wasteman" informed me that child seats aren't recyclable because they contain too many types of materials — plastic, metal and cloth. However, one lead uncovered a recycler in Alberta called Kidseat Recyclers that accepts expired car seats. That's the good news! The bad news (for you) is that they're in Calgary. I'd suggest getting in touch with them to find out if they do collections outside of Calgary, or if they know of any businesses planning to expand this service to the Edmonton area.
See Kidseat Recyclers for more information about recycling expired seats at various Round-Up Clinics or Inspection Clinics. They promise to recycle or reuse any part of the seat possible, including metal, plastic and any other usable parts. Kidseat charges a recycling fee of $7 per car seat and an additional $2 for the base. You must also remove all fabric, foam and webbing.
Also, the Recycling Council of BC (604-RECYCLE) suggested Pacific Mobile Depots, which sets up a depot in Vancouver, North Vancouver and Coquitlam every third Saturday of the month from 9 until noon. Best of luck to all the parents out there!
3. What's better, to buy milk in waxed cartons or plastic jugs?
Kevin of Calgary, Alberta
Possibly none of the above. Walk the dairy aisle of your grocery store and you'll see milk packaged in waxed cartons, plastic jugs and glass bottles. To help you choose the most environmentally friendly option, we delve into the packaging. And wouldn't you know that milk packaging makes up one of the largest beverage-container waste streams in Alberta? (PDF file)
Glass bottles are the best option because they can be sterilized easily and reused. Their high deposit fee — about a dollar — also increases the likelihood that they will make it back to the store. When consumers return their bottles, the energy required to sterilize and refill them is far less than what's required to make a new paper milk carton. If you can find milk in glass, this is your best option.
Plastic milk jugs are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), or plastic numbered 2. It's safer for food than many other plastics and not quite as toxic to produce. Although widely recyclable in most municipal curbside programs, recovery and recycling rates vary. In provinces with milk-jug recovery programs, the Environment and Plastics Industry Council estimates a recovery rate of about 50 per cent. Recycled milk jugs are downcycled, ending their life as plant trays or non-food packaging — items often not easily recycled.
The paper milk carton, or polycoated gable-top cartons, are made from virgin paperboard. But buyer beware: they are not always accepted in municipal curbside recycling programs. Check the accepted items for your city, Calgary, or look into drop-off depots to ensure cartons get recycled and pulped into new paper products like tissues.
Put simply, "reuse" comes before "recycle", making glass the top choice. Torn between plastic and paper? Consider this: if you go through a lot of milk, choose one four-litre plastic jug to buying two two-litre paper cartons — "reduce" is the first "r" after all. And be sure to keep both plastic and paper milk containers out of the landfill. Always recycle!
4. Do you have a suggestion for recycling VHS tapes beyond Craigslist, Freecycle, etc.? I've read you shouldn't put them in your garbage due to chemicals on the black tape.
Maureen of Port Moody, BC
Oh VHS tapes; those were the days. If the ones you own are too damaged to view and hence donate or give away, recycling is an option. The Recycling Council of BC has a great website with an easy-to-use search engine, or what they call the RCBC Recyclepedia. All you have to do is select the type of material you want to recycle, "electronic", then the item, "VHS tapes", and select the city you live in. It's that simple.
The bad news from the Recycling Council of BC is that "VHS and audio cassette tapes are difficult to recycle because the ribbon of tape cannot be recycled, only the plastic portion. Some companies request that you take the ribbon out of the cassette before you drop them off." I won't keep you in suspense; the results for your area are: London Drugs — Green Deal Recycling Program or Pacific Mobile Depots. Given RCBC's cautionary note, I'd suggest calling ahead before you start pulling out reels of tape. I'm not aware of chemicals found on or leaching from the tape. You could always wear gloves if you're concerned.
Live outside of BC? Check out Earth 911 and search VHS tapes, then enter your postal code or city to find a recycling depot near you.
5. I'm considering switching to LED holiday lights to decorate my house this year. If I make the switch, what do I do with the old tangled string of lights?
Chris of Vancouver, BC
Making the switch to more energy-efficient LED (light-emitting diode) holiday lights is an excellent tradition to establish this year. LEDs use 90 per cent less energy, last 10 times longer, and are more durable because they don't have filaments or glass bulbs like traditional lights. Where they don't differ much is in the price. You might also want to purchase a timer to save even more money on your utility bill.
As for recycling that old string of lights, you have options:
Most regional recycling facilities can help. Find out what you can recycle in your area by contacting the BC Recycling Council at 1-800-667-4321. In 2009, for example, BC Hydro set up an incandescent light-string recycling program in the Lower Mainland during the Bright Nights in Stanley Park seasonal event. No matter where you live, you can visit the website of your utility provider to see if it is hosting a similar local event.
Various retailers, such as Home Depot, have also hosted holiday light exchanges in the past. Find out if your local hardware store is collecting old strings. Some stores will even reward your recycling and energy-saving efforts by offering discounts on LED options.
Holiday LEDs is an e-commerce company that offers a program to recycle your lights. It's free, but you will have to pay to ship the lights to Michigan. Consider getting together with friends or family and put together one parcel. In 2009/2010 Holiday LEDs recycled about 4,500 kilograms of old lights.
6. My dishwasher recently died. How can I choose an energy-efficient model and then get rid of my old clunker?
David of Calgary, AB
Let's cover the often-overlooked issue of disposal first. Most cities have large-item pick-up or drop-off programs that run throughout the year. Always check your city's website; across Canada each city will treat large-appliance disposal differently.
Calgary has a Throw 'n' Go program with facilities set up at the entrance of all three city landfills. They'll accept your appliance for a charge. You may want to inquire about the disposal fee by calling 3-1-1.
When it comes to all types of appliances, look for the ENERGY STAR logo. Dishwashers that qualify for the logo use about 32 per cent less electricity than the least-efficient ones on the market.
ENERGY STAR is an American-based program, but here in Canada, federal law requires that the EnerGuide label be placed on all new electrical appliances manufactured in or imported into Canada. This label indicates the amount of electricity used by that appliance. When you're on the floor looking at display models, find the black-and-white EnerGuide label to compare the energy use of similar models and estimate annual operating costs.
And last but not least, don't overlook the type of soap you'll be using in your new dishwasher. If you haven't switched to an eco-friendlier option — one without phosphates or chlorine — now's the time. How will you know it's free of harmful chemicals? Choose a soap that has all the ingredients listed on the label. You'll be surprised at the lack of transparency which will make your decision quite easy. You can also make your own with the Queen of Green's home cleaning recipes.