April 22 is Earth Day. First celebrated on the same day back in 1970, Earth Day is an annual event that has been recognized every year for more than 50 years as a way to raise awareness for environmental challenges and concerns that the world is facing. According to EarthDay.org, more than 190 countries are engaged, and social and cultural activism is on the rise, as more and more people share in the concern about the future of the planet.
In honour of Earth Day 2021, here are a few things to cross off your Earth Day checklist in support of a cleaner tomorrow.
Get familiar with your blue box
Reduce, reuse, recycle—it’s a mantra that every Canadian knows, but one that not everybody follows.
According to the Recycling Council of Ontario, Canada recycles just nine percent of its plastics, with the remainder ending up in landfills and incinerators, or being mixed in with actual garbage and organic waste. For more than 40 years, Canada has enforced recycling programs in residential neighbourhoods, with the very first recycling program launching in Kitchener, Ont. in 1981. But despite instructions and colourful diagrams, the Canadian Government’s ability to get Canadians to use their blue box properly continues to fall short. In 2016, for example, a report produced by Deloitte for Environment and Climate Change Canada revealed that more than 3.2 million metric tonnes of recyclables still ended up in the trash.
Understanding what can go in the recycling bin, and how to dispose of it properly is one of the biggest ways to reduce unnecessary plastic waste.
Recycle your plastics, paper, and more
Plastic is the biggest polluter on the planet. Every year, Canadians discard three million tonnes of plastic waste, and only an alarming nine percent of that is recycled. Unfortunately, not all plastics can be recycled.
Depending on where you live, recycling paper can be easier than recycling plastic because some paper products can also be composted and used as mulch. Brown paper bags, or egg cartons, for example, do wonders to support a blooming vegetable garden!
Refer to the following list for an example of common recyclables and learn how to dispose of them correctly:
- Rinse traces of food waste from plastic containers before tossing them in the blue bin to decrease chances of contamination, make it easier for waste collectors, and to prevent attracting animals.
- Black plastics are tricky. Not all municipalities accept this in their recycle program, so double check with your regional program (take-out food containers, coffee lids, etc.)
- Household paper products (books, magazines, junk mail, flyers, etc.) can be recycled, as can cupboards and corrugated cardboard products (flatten them first).
- Most plastics contain a number ranging from one to seven which will tell you if the plastic is recyclable, and how it should be disposed of.
- Certain plastic wraps can be recycled (like chip bags or resealable sandwich bags), but others cannot (plastic cling wrap, or plastic used to wrap meat or cheese). Again, double to check with your local municipality to better understand your region’s regulations.
- Aluminum cans (like the ones used for canned foods, or paint cans) can all be recycled, but they should be rinsed out first.
- Any biodegradable plastics that break down, like the ones used to create compost bags, cannot go in the recycling bin and must be placed in the garbage.
- Most household electronics and/or appliances can be recycled—research the nearest drop-off centre to ensure these products are recycled correctly.
- Glass jars and bottles can be recycled, but they should have their lids on and be rinsed before placing them in the recycling bin.
- Paper products that are coated in wax, should not go in the recycling bin, nor should soiled paper products. Double check with your municipality.
- Some paper products, like paper towels, brown paper bags, newspaper, or egg cartons can be recycled, or, they can be placed in a compost bin.
- Some household aerosol spray cans can be recycled if they are empty, but their lids must remain intact. Aerosol sprays that contain toxic chemicals, such as paint, cannot go in the blue bin. Check with your local municipality for further guidance.
The majority of houses in Canada also have plenty of old electronics or appliances lying around that, unfortunately, end up in the garbage, even when they’re recyclable!
Common household appliances or electronics are crafted with plastic, metal, and glass, all of which are recyclable individually, and most come with disposal instructions. Recycle My Electronics is a great platform that showcases more than 2,500 drop-off sites across Canada for individuals to properly dispose of their electronics and appliances.
The following are examples of everyday electronics that can be recycled:
- Home audio and visual systems
- Computers and laptops
- Cameras and recording equipment
- Video game systems
- Cell phones and phones (connected by landline)
Helping the Earth Outside Your Home
There are plenty of things that you can do in your community or the great outdoors that can contribute to a cleaner earth. Check out the following list for some ideas:
- Walk as much as possible! Not only is it great exercise, but walking is the only method of transportation that emits zero CO2 pollution. If you can’t walk, consider biking, taking the bus or the train, or using a ride-sharing program.
- Most provinces in Canada have a set of peak operating times for hydro—consider doing your laundry or dishes during off-hours to save money and energy.
- Shop sustainably as much as you can, whether that means buying clothing second-hand, or purchasing your groceries from a local market or farmer.
- Unplug any appliances that you’re not using—not only will you save money, but you’ll cut back on your energy consumption, too!
- Replace old light bulbs with energy-efficient options, or consider purchasing a set of solar lights for outdoor or indoor use.
- Conserve your water usage: turn off the tap when you brush your teeth, take shorter showers, and do laundry only when you have a full load.
- If you only drink filtered water, buy a water filtration system–plastic water bottles account for an obscene amount of waste, with one million bought around the world every minute.
- Support restaurants that offer eco-friendly takeout boxes made from paper, biodegradable plastic, or aluminum and avoid single-use plastics.
- Purchase a set of stainless steel straws, and carry one with you to avoid using plastic straws, of which roughly 57 million are used daily.
- If you eat meat, consider cutting back on your consumption, and try incorporating a few plant-based meals every week.
- Consider starting your own compost: organic food waste doesn’t belong in the garbage, but it often ends up there. You can start your own personal compost and use it to fertilize your household plants or garden.
Are you Earth Day ready?
For more than 50 years, Earth Day has been celebrated by millions around the globe in more than 190 countries. In Canada alone, millions of tonnes of waste are created daily. However, with the right mindset and minor adjustments in everyday behaviour, every single person has the potential to change the planet for the better. From taking the time to better understand Canada’s recycling systems, to picking up waste in the community, a greener tomorrow is just around the corner.
Ready to get started?