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Green living and sustainability: how to clean and recycle

Photo courtesy of David Suzuki Foundation

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.

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