Like any successful relay race, UHN recycling cycle requires symbiosis between the participants, handoffs, and execution methodologies. When a participant in the race drops the ‘recycling baton’, it not only slows the process, but potentially negates the possibility of crossing the finish line. Everyone at the UHN including the patients, visitors, volunteers, and staff must demonstrate a contentious effort to carefully and diligently recycle much like a well seasoned relay team.
You’re probably wondering who participates in this relay, how they participate, and how each participant connects to one another, so let me break it down:
1. UHN Bin Organization
First, let’s start with the first leg of the race, UHN Bin Organization. Depending on the research or hospital site, there are different types of waste bins and separation standards set. These standards are set by the waste handlers associated with the various UHN sites and differentiate from municipal standards within The City of Toronto. Here, our waste facilities set the rules for the race which help us properly locate and label bins at different sites. This is important because the single blue bin sites combine paper and container recycling together. The double blue bin sites separate containers and paper. One of our overachievers, Toronto General Hospital, further separates cardboard and paper. Although a seemingly straightforward portion of the race, bin setup and placement has a heavy influence within the cycle down the line. Misplaced signage and bins, missing signage and bins, illegible signage, and bin inaccessibility create a barrier for proper communication between the next runner, The Bin User. This can lead to the nightmare known as Recycling Contamination.
2. The Bin User
Now, The Bin User takes the baton. It’s up to the user to conscientiously care to recycle. Even though many bin users understand the importance of recycling and have had general recycling education, the standards of the UHN sites vary in meticulous ways that often lead to Wish Cycling. Long story short, most recycling wishes won’t come true if they’re placed in the wrong bin. If a recycling bag is less than 90% uncontaminated, meaning the total number of recyclable items in the bag is less than 90%, the bag will go into the landfill. You might be thinking, achieving a 90% uncontaminated bin is quite a steep hill to climb, and you would be right! This is why we offer educational resources through the Energy & Environment team in order to train the bin users to go from recycling generalists to experts! Here’s a quick shameless plug of our green team email if you want to learn more: email@example.com. Now after all the items have been diligently sorted, the Environmental Services team takes charge.
3. UHN Environmental Services
UHN Environmental Services run the second to last stretch in this race. Here, EVS staff carefully take the separated bags down to the loading dock where UHN sites receive and deliver goods. Proper communication throughout this step between the EVS staff cleaners and waste handlers at the loading dock are essential. All bags, regardless of being waste or recycling, come in clear bags and end up in the same tilt truck (it’s the grey thing on wheels below). After that, the bags are sorted by waste handlers at the loading dock. After all the hard work that’s been done up to this point, it is crucial that the bags stay sorted and separate. Here’s a visual that conveys the message much more concisely:
4. Recycling Facilities
Once all things are said and done on the UHN’s side, waste handlers can finally send off materials to Recycling Facilities that will take recycled materials for sorting, processing, and repurposing. There are so many items used in our everyday life that are manufactured with Recyclable Materials. Check your labels! In doing so, we can help create a demand for recycled materials, and prevent the creation of superfluous manufacturing materials that strain our environment and influence the climate crisis.
Okay, but what exactly is a recycling facility? Well, here’s some pictures from our most recent visit!
Materials are further sorted into different streams and pressed into big bales … like hay bales on a farm, but these are made from cans, or plastic jugs, or paper, or cardboard … you get the idea. Then these bales are sold to manufacturers to make “new” things instead of mining or producing ever more new materials. It’s not waste, it’s a resource!
I’m almost afraid to ask but do we have stats on our contaminated bag rate?
Does this apply to non-hospital sites too? I’m at OPG so we just have a little blue bin under our desk. I was always under the assumption it was strictly for paper.
Non-hospital sites will also have slightly different recycling rules than at home, though it might not be the same “different” as the hospitals … it depends on how they manage their waste, what waste/recycling vendor they have and what that vendor allows because they’ve found a market for it. I believe OPG also separates paper from containers so keep on using that bin for paper. It is possible that they also have a recycling relay race similar to what we’ve shown here, though it may have some differences in containers and bag colours etc. Check with building management for current recycling posters if they aren’t present. I think OPG’s waste vendor accepts fewer things in compost than we do (e.g. they put paper towels and napkins in garbage, while the hospitals put them in compost).