Earth Week Results & the Tale of Trash

During our Earth Week extravaganza, we collected ballots filled out with people’s favorite Green Team Ideas and the bin fact that they found most surprising. Over the course of the week, hundreds of ballots were collected. Excitingly enough, 5 people joined the Green Team on the spot! Without further ado…

The top 3 Green Team ideas were:

  1. Bickle Grow Garden,
  2. ABI Green Team, and
  3. Turn off lights/devices initiatives

The top 3 most surprising bin facts were:

  1. Coffee cups (Ed. the cups are trash in the City of Toronto, but are recyclable at UHN, though it’s always better to lug-a-mug. The lids and sleeves are recyclable most places) 
  2. Straws/Styrofoam (Ed. at UHN these are both garbage, while the City of Toronto will recycle Styrofoam)
  3. Coffee pods (Ed. these are garbage, even the ones that say “recyclable” – as recyclable means take the unit apart > trash the lid and filter > compost the grounds > rinse out the cup > then recycle the cup … a lot of steps for a “convenience” product)

Speaking of bins, that brings me to my next topic: the waste stream. At UHN, waste goes through a specific process to ensure that it ends up in the right place. All of the hospitals have mixed recycling except for Toronto General (TGH) and Princess Margaret Cancer Research Tower (PMCRT) who have separated recycling. Mixed recycling is when all of the recycling goes in one bin. Separated is when there is a bin for metal/glass/plastic items and a separate bin for paper/cardboard products. Regardless, these bins are lined with clear bags so that recycling and garbage can be distinguished (Ed. 1 exception: TRI uses black bags in garbage).

Housekeeping collects the bags and takes them to the waste room where it is then picked up by waste handlers and taken to the loading dock. At this stage, it can look like recycling is being lumped together with the rest of the garbage. However, the clear bags allow it to be separated out again once it reaches the loading dock. It is important to note that heavily contaminated recycling will interfere with the sorting process down the line, so it must be considered garbage. This is why it is so important to throw your waste into the right bin.

At the loading dock, each bag is sorted into the appropriate bin or compactor. Depending on the site, and what kind of recycling it has, there may be many or few different compactors. For example, these photos taken at TGH, showcase many different recycling bins.

Below we have the general waste compactor and the organics bins. The bin with the yellow lining is an empty hazardous waste bin, about to be taken to a waste station near a unit. There are special processes for dealing with hazardous waste depending on what type it is (eg. biomedical, cytotoxic) and they are kept completely separate from the rest of the waste stream. From here the waste is picked up on garbage day and taken where it needs to go. To see the next stage, read our deep dive into waste streams.

I hope that a better understanding of the waste disposal process will help make UHN a greener place.

Happy recycling!

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