Photo: Five ways to recycle less

Recycling feels good. But some of us may be getting too much of this good thing...

Because "recycle" is the last "R" in "reduce, reuse and recycle." And, with some exceptions — cell phones, batteries, light bulbs, plastic bags, medications, for example — we've become too good at it.

If your blue bin is full to the brim each week, maybe you need another solution.

Learn how to recycle less! Here's why:

Perform this quick experiment at home:

  • Step one: Inventory the blue bin. (It's full of plastic, right?)
  • Step two: Search your home for goods made with 100 per cent post-consumer plastic. (I found a few Green Toys made from recycled plastic milk jugs — #2 or HDPE, recycled plastic planks (lumber) as our walkway and an Organic Girl tub of greens. That's it.)

I can't confirm where all the plastic you're diligently recycling goes (and I'm not into conspiracies). What's clear is that other "R's" deserve our attention — reduce, reuse, refuse, reclaim, renew, revitalize, refurbish, rethink and redesign, to name a few.

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Five tips to recycle less

Tip one: Shop smarter.

Beware of excess packaging from all consumer goods — food, personal care products and electronics, even organic, local, non-toxic and GMO-free stuff.

Substitute: Make toothpaste with baking soda, coconut oil and a few drops of peppermint essential oil or try brands packaged in glass (reusable) containers instead of a plastic tube in a paper box.

Tip two: Never recycle another glass jar!

They're easy to wash (dishwasher-friendly), have an air tight seal, freeze well and don't leach toxics like Bisphenol-A (BPA).

Substitute: Store leftovers and dry goods (instead of buying containers) or pack your lunch in glass jars. Note: Depending on the distance of your work commute, you might choose stainless steel lunch containers because glass is heavy.

Tip three: Reduce is the first "R".

It's time for a plastic diet! Buy fewer prepared foods, buy in bulk and pack waste-free lunches.

Substitute: Eat a lot of yogurt from plastic tubs? Maybe it's time to invest in a yogurt maker!

Tip four: Make your own cleaners.

Stop recycling plastic tubs, jugs and spray bottles from household cleaners.

Substitute: To a seven-litre pail of hot water, add one cup of baking soda, 1/3-cup of salt and one cup of liquid castile soap. Use a ½-cup per load of laundry. (See more recipes at

Tip five: Fix it.

Thanks to planned obsolescence, most consumer goods are designed to fail. And household items have become cheaper to replace than to repair. Although most provinces have recycling programs for large and small appliances, try fixing things first.

Substitute: Check if your city hosts Repair Cafes! Tweet @RepairCafeTO, @RepairCafeYYC and @vanfixit, too.

Where to recycle tricky stuff

There are some items we put in municipal blue bins hoping they'll get recycled — polystyrene, batteries, light bulbs, electronics, plastic bags, household hazardous waste (paints, garden chemicals), etc.

Substitute: London Drugs has a "bring back the pack" program. Bring in the receipt and they'll recycle cell phones, batteries, disposable cameras, small appliances AND the packaging (like Styrofoam)! I also have a list of recycling FAQs — from child car seats to mattresses and drywall.

Can't reuse, repair, refurbish or repurpose it? Here's a list of recycling resources (organized by location) to help.

Reducing consumption isn't easy. We're also saddled with making good use of what we do have, getting our money's worth AND proper disposal. Wouldn't you rather DO stuff than OWN stuff?

Lindsay Coulter, a fellow Queen of Green

March 10, 2015

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Jan 21, 2017
6:09 AM

Should I continue to use up my skin care products as I replace them with better eco solutions, or should I send them off to hazard waste depots right away?

Jul 03, 2015
4:45 PM

According to this Harvard Health article (Drug Expiry dates — Do they mean anything?) it’s hard to know when to throw you things in your medicine cabinet —

Jul 02, 2015
10:10 PM

One of the issues with glass jars is the lids: they retain the odors of the original contents. Solution: there are stores that sell new lids, in a variety of sizes that fit most standard glass jars! The stores tend to be a little quirky, but are worth seeking out. Here in Victoria, I find mine at Buckerfield’s, in the “beekeeper” section of the store, where they also sell jars, sheets of beeswax (which I use to make candles) and candle-making supplies.

Jul 02, 2015
1:01 PM

It’s really hard to know when to throw out medications/over the counter drugs. A Harvard University health article basically says expiry dates in the vast majority of cases are rather meaningless and in one study the US FDA found that “90% of more than 100 drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, were perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date.” source: and

May 11, 2015
7:23 AM

Dani… there is a brand of toothpaste called Uncle Harry’s, that sells their products in glass jars, I am not sure if they are available in stores but you can buy it directly from their website :)

Apr 08, 2015
6:03 PM

Great column.

Barbara, this is hardly a mass movement but it’s a beginning.

When I avoid a brand due to over packaging I write manufacturers telling them that I like their product, wanted to purchase it but chose not to do so due to that over packaging. I end these emails by saying that I’m looking forward to enjoying their brand after they redesign their packaging to be less wasteful.

Yes, we need to kick start a consumer movement to address this. Anybody ready to take it on?

Apr 06, 2015
5:47 PM


Do you know which brands of toothpaste sell in glass? I have tried making my own toothpaste but I really can’t handle the bicarb salty taste.

Thanks so much :)

Apr 06, 2015
12:37 PM

Love what you organized here. Most of these practices our house is already practicing or are in transition with organizing some changes, and it feels good.Transitions take time and it is important to not get frustrated, but continue the change one step at a time. Some things can be changed immediately, some things don’t feel pressure from. It takes time to organize methods to implement some of these changes successfully.

Instead of buying spinach in packages, grow it in pots. Our 20’ x 10’ fenced in yard, has pots growing beans, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, radish, lettuce, spinach, potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, herbs and more. Beans, peas, cucumbers plant grow upwards all over the fence. Reduces plastic packaging, is a healthy way to live, teaches children understand how they get their food.

Thank you for providing the information in this article. Changing the world one idea at a time.

Apr 06, 2015
9:31 AM

Excellent article, practical tips. I’m concerned that ‘recycling’ is so popular (and also misunderstood as a panacea) that we really need to turn up the dial on the Reduce and Reuse parts. We’re trying to do just this at — if anyone would care to visit and check us out. All the best, Jacquie

Apr 06, 2015
9:29 AM

I do a lot of canning, but also use the glass jars for virtually everything I put in my freezer that I make or want to save. The trick is, to put the jars into old socks because if they are not protected, they will break VERY easily if they even gently touch something solid — metal, glass or ….. I have also used my canning lids over and over. If I gently open the lid, they do not get a big dent on the side, and will then reseal easily the next time I can food. I rarely have a failure. For meat and vegetables, I do use new lids as I want to be extra sure they will seal. However, I have reused old ones also and have never had a failure. I also, very carefully, take the hot canning water and pour it over my weeds outside when I’m done.

Mar 24, 2015
6:21 AM

Terracycle recycles all kinds of packaging, like juice packs, and toothpaste tubes…Even cigarette butts! Check them out

Mar 18, 2015
7:16 AM

Make your own jam, peanut butter, wine, beer, bread, pizza etc. I have been using the same wine bottles for 25 years. That’s about 7,500 wine bottles for our household and over 200,000 wine bottles for my business Wine Kitz that we have kept in the reusing category! We also have ingredients for cleaning like citric acid and we have cheese making supplies and pop making supplies! More ways to reduce waste :)

Mar 17, 2015
10:32 AM

How do we start a change in packaging at the retail level?

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