My kingdom for a lid

My beloved green recycling bin: zero cost, zero waste

I hadn’t paid attention to the matter until recently, but apparently the city of Montreal has a problem with its recycling bins.

Actually, a few problems.

The first is that after prolonged use they tended to crack and break. That’s okay though, the recycling bins themselves are recyclable, and there are new, stronger bins like the one above (after three years of use, it’s dirty, but completely intact).

The second is that they’re difficult to carry outside, requiring the use of both hands. More of an annoyance to everyone else really, requiring them to put the bin down as they open and close doors (or awkwardly wedge the bin against something to free up the other hand). But for people with limited mobility, it’s a more serious problem.

Finally, the most pressing issue, it seemed, was that papers and light containers would fly out of the recycling bins and litter the surrounding streets. Though I’m pretty good about packing my bin and haven’t seen any of my recyclables tumbling down the street, my job at the coop I live in requires me to clean up the front yard on a nearly daily basis, and it’s obvious that garbage is piling up there from somewhere, most likely other green bins.

To solve all three of these problems, the city of Montreal has looked at three different solutions, which are being implemented in various boroughs. The city is studying each carefully to see which is more successful.

The bac-sac

The first solution is this contraption, a redesign of the recycling bin that allows it to carry more stuff but also be carried with one hand, and be easily emptied by collection crews. It seemed perfect, and the city was really excited about it, so they started a pilot project in three boroughs.

Blue-collar workers quickly predicted that the redesigned bins wouldn’t last through the winter. Flexibility doesn’t mean much when you’re encased in ice, and the meshy sides of the container are just an invitation for a freeze-thaw cycle to permanently bond it to a snowbank.

Sure enough, in January, residents using the “bac-sac” (the city didn’t want people to call it that) complained that it was too high, too difficult to carry and would break easily. In fact, most of the ones on the street were already broken in some way, as this video showsResidents wanted their old bins back.

It’s a failure, but not one I feel too badly about. As predictable as it was, this is a pilot project, and you have to expect failures when you’re testing something new.

Hopefully the city will learn from this and design a new container that is more sturdy and easier to transport.

Going big

Thinking, I suppose, that bigger is better, the Saint-Laurent borough is testing a large recycling container on wheels that has a lid and can be easily (even automatically) picked up and emptied into recycling trucks. The fact that the bins are in some cases larger than their owners is a bit of an issue though. You can’t take them down a flight of stairs, so they have to stay outside at all times. That’s okay if you live in a single-family house, but in an apartment building in a high-density area, it’s a solution that doesn’t work.

The sac-sac

The final solution to the garbage problem was to get rid of the idea of bins altogether and just have people put their recyclables in clear plastic bags. The Ville-Marie borough started this in 2007, and now the Plateau borough is climbing on board, with green guys Projet Montréal (who control the borough council) thinking it’s the best option as they announced their environment plans this week. The big containers won’t work in the dense borough, the bac-sac isn’t strong enough, and the garbage problem caused by the old bins can’t be left to continue.

An initial supply of bags will be handed out by June. After that, residents will need to buy their own bags, at a cost of between 10 and 50 cents a bag. Considering how people complained about the five cents a bag it costs for groceries, you can imagine how they’d feel about this. Some might decide they don’t want to pay for the bags and just hide their recyclables in garbage. Or a household might run out of the bags and decide to throw a few recyclables in the trash because they won’t be able to make a trip to the store for another day or two.

What’s more, the bags themselves aren’t recyclable. It’s just plain wasteful.

And, to top it all off, there are problems with this system that are just as predictable as the problems with the bac-sac. Crews can be confused between the recycling bags and the garbage bags. Poor people scavenging for refundable containers can rip open the bags to get at that soda can or two-litre bottle, leaving a big mess. Or the bags can get stuck in the ice.

Still, Luc Ferrandez and the Projet Montréal people are smart, and I respect their opinions on matters such as these. It’s very possible that this is an imperfect solution that is the lesser of many evils, and will only need to last a few years until a better one comes along. And statistics show that the boroughs using the bags (Ville-Marie and Verdun) show increased recycling by 10 to 15 per cent so far, which is pretty encouraging.

The short-term fix: more collection

Fortunately or unfortunately none of these have come to my borough yet, so we’re still using the little green bins that could, and I’m still picking up garbage every day from the front lawn.

I certainly am not crazy about this idea of plastic bags, and I think the bac-sacs still need a redesign. A large bin on wheels might work for the small apartment building I’m in, something I can empty recyclables into and wheel to the curb once a week.

But one solution to the problem of overflowing recycling bins would seem to me to be to just collect them more often. Instead of two garbage pickups and one recycling pickup a week, have two recycling pickups and one garbage pickup. I already have more recycling waste than pure garbage, and once a composting option becomes available to me that will become even more so.

Then again, it takes two minutes to clean up the front yard, and my recycling bin works just fine. So I’m not exactly losing sleep over it.

26 thoughts on “My kingdom for a lid

  1. Chris

    I lived in Fredericton NB a few years ago and their recycling program worked very well from what I could tell. Instead of one box for everything, you got two boxes, one grey and one blue. In the blue box went glass, metal, plastic and in the grey went paper. One week you would put out the blue box and the next week you would put out the grey. They even sent out a little calendar every year so you could keep track. It worked because the boxes never overflowed and the paper didn’t blow away because it wasn’t mixed in with a bunch of other stuff so it would lay flat. You could keep all the other paper down by putting a heavy newspaper on the top or some people put a brick on it. I never once saw recycling fly out of them.

    Also, the newer bins came with covers that were attached to the bin so you could close it up and nothing would blow away if it was windy! Genius!

    1. Mike

      We had similar, ie separation, in Verdun. Too much trouble to then see then both emptied in same place. Later admitted, it was decided that all recyclables would be together & that encouraged a large no. of us.

  2. Saraline

    Anything that’s made out of plastic will wear down and potentially break over-time, which is why infant car seats have expiry dates.

    As for buying recycling bags, I don’t see a problem with having to buy them. People have to buy garbage bags, don’t they? It is wasteful though.

    My building has one of the big green bins with a lid outside (and three black garbage bins as well) and they just stay out there all the time. It works out well because I can just take my garbage or recycling and put it in the bins when my garbage pail or recycling box get full and I don’t have to keep it in my apartment until pick-up day. The recycling bin always gets really full though since there’s only one and everyone in my building uses it.

    I think that more frequent recycling pick-ups are a good idea anyway, I always end up with a lot more recycling than garbage. I like that if you forget to take your garbage out you have a second chance because they pick it up twice a week, and when I was at my old place with just a little bin I wished that they would have the same for recycling. My recycling box was always a mountain of nightmare.

  3. Chris

    I live in the Village and I love the sac-sacs. Compared to the bins, there seems to be relatively less trash around recycling day. There is no confusion when it comes to pick up: On recycling day, anything in a non-clear bag is left and on trash day, anything in a clear bag is left.

    The folks that go through the bags for deposit cans and bottles are generally respectful, although we are encouraged to leave deposit bottles and cans out–and when I remember to do this, they are gone in a few minutes.

    My understanding was that the bags Ville-Marie used were recyclable, but maybe they’re not. I looked at the box and there is no indication. In the last two years, my household has received 160 bags (4 boxes) delivered to our door from the borough and we can get more at the Eco-quartier.

  4. Marc

    6 years ago, I lived in Verdun which uses the blue transparent bags for recycling. At first, I balked too at having to buy the bags and so did my roomates that didn’t want the extra expense for recycling. It all adds up that if you aren’t recycling, you’ll have to buy more trash bags anyway! Either way, you have to pay for them.

    Now that I moved out and I’m back in an area with the green bins, I keep using the bags for the convenience of it all. I’m at at point that I recycle more than I trow away in the trash so one green bin isn’t realistic at all.

    I also try to get the most use out of that transparent bag before allowing it to be used for recycling. Bringing back empty cans to the market being one of many usues.

    When you’re shredding papers that has your personnal info on it, you can’t put it in the green bin or it’ll fly away as soon as you open the door.

    Simply put, there is not perfect solution. For area where the big bin on wheels isn’t feasible, the transparent bag does the job nicely.

    1. Karine

      I’ve been in Verdun for 5 years. At first I was puzzled by the notion of buying recycling bags but after a while, you get used to it, just like when we were no longer allowed to use the smaller shopping bags to put trash on the curbs. No airborne flyers or cans rolling down the streets here.

  5. Maria Gatti

    Hmm, no perfect solution, but the bags would at least put a damper on all the BROKEN GLASS lying around everywhere on recycling day. It is ironic that this environmental measure has a very strong negative impact on city cyclists who are trying to use an environmentally-friendly means of transport – I already had to change a tire this spring, which is expensive. The glass not only punctured my inner tube, which is not such a big deal, but cut an angry hole in the tire itself.

    In places, there is so much glass that it is also a threat to bigger car and motorbike tires, to pedestrians and to children playing – yes, it is on the sidewalks as well as the streets.

    I also have more recycling than garbage by a long shot, though I wish we had composting as almost all my garbage except for the catshit is food scraps and vegetable peels. I also wish there were more recycling at Jean-Talon Market – I see a lot of recyclable packaging thrown away there and imagine it must be very similar behind the scenes at supermarkets.

    Do you know the plans of the Villeray-Parc-Extension-St-Michel borough in this respect? I haven’t seen much for either Villeray or Petite-Patrie.

    1. Bobby

      I have also noted the glass on the road after the recycling truck has passed. The glass in the road is exactly where the bicycles travel. I figure it’s a bit of a joke the recycling truck staff have at the cyclists expense. And I don’t like it one bit.

  6. homer

    This is so ridiculous. Living in the “waste island”, we had the blue blins, similar to the green one pictured above. No, it didn’t need a lid. You flatten your boxes and put your newspapers/etc. on the side, “standing”. Never had a problem, and used it for nearly 15 years. (the same bin).

  7. Mike

    When I moved to Verdun 12 yrs ago, blue bags were required & you had to buy them. (Newcomers got a 100 free). I was happy with this. The Bac Sac was impossible,especially in winter – for old arthritic farts like me — with 22 steps. Now we’re back to blue bags, $3.99 +/- for 5 month supply ~~~ makes me happy to be part of recycling – safely. Mike

  8. Mike

    PS and in response to Fagstein, Apr 9 – ‘CBC’ says ‘blue bags’ not recyclable ~~ I have no idea which they checked — the ones we buy at PJC in Verdun are – (& so marked), recyclable. Mike

  9. James Lawlor

    I live on one of the streets that was given the bac-sacs and I have one in my house. Although at first I thought they were a good idea, they have been a disaster! Not one bac-sac has survived the trial period! I kept using the regular boxes because I had built a special holder for two of them next to the kitchen.

    The plastic is way too fragile – They started breaking way before the winter started. The handles and the lid – the two main features, break off too easily!

    The city needs to move to twice a week recycling and once-a-week garbage collection as soon as possible.

  10. Jean Naimard

    That’s okay though, the recycling bins themselves are recyclable,

    Perhaps, but that does not answer the question of “what do you do when you want to recycle your recycling bin? Do you put it in another recycling bin”???

    It’s really the same kind of question that “when do you want to recycle your garbage can, do you put it in another garbage can”???
    (That said, I think transparent plastic bags, so we can see that it’s recycling and not garbage, are the best solution).

    1. Marc

      When mine had a big crack in the middle running almost all the way thru, I tried to have it picked up by the recycling crew by leaving it empty (with a sign saying to recycle it) on top of another bin that was full.
      That didn’t work.
      I had to break it in small pieces and put it in a bag to have it picked up!

        1. Mike

          I had to fight to get rid of mine, even after the project was scraped. There are still quite a few around; – less some ppl keep for other purposes on back balconies. No way I would have walked with a cane in one hand – dragging the broken one to get a replacement. lol

          However the one good thing with it was ‘they’ finally admitted that there was no reason , (& had never been),to separate. Contents ended up in same space. I don’t mind fighting for the planet; but not to make 2 trips carrying – when one is all that was needed.

          Our recycling is double our trash. I’m not knocking recycling – just the lies , mythology & waste of time & money.

          To make things worse the recycled items are often in land fill anyway cause the market for it is dead.So we idiot children & great unwashed are being brainwashed for what WAS & MAY well be again a good idea.

          Glad ppl feel strong about it — hope the good feelings stay, costs go down & idiotic ideas are put to bed.Finally ~~ I’m waiting for recycling cops- coming into our homes……………………….

  11. Amanda

    Since I moved to an upper-floor condo a few years ago, I’ve been buying clear blue bags instead of my bin. Not only is the bin tiny and difficult to manoeuvre, there also isn’t really room for it in my small kitchen (not to mention, those green plastic monsters are fugly!)

    I have room under the sink for 2 big frames to hang the bags on – metal/glass/plastic on the left, cardboard/paper on the right. I can also use another bag under the shredder. It’s a more flexible way to collect stuff inside the house, and easier to take down on R day.

    The main issue is that as individual households shift away from trash to recycling, the borough collection schedules are probably going to lag behind for a while. I’m not sure of the economics driving the number of recycling pickups but I suspect it’s way less simple than “trade one for the other.”

  12. Seth

    At least you’re not using a milk crate as a bin. Those people are hopeless.

    Or you get people who “piggyback” on your bin by dropping a few things, not always recyclable, on top of your sorted stuff.

    1. Mike

      The piggy backers should be sentenced to 60 hrs of watching an Andy Hardy movie,same one, over & over. The guys who load the trucks for prob. more money then a teacher makes should not have to make on the spot decisions.

      Those milk crates which I’ve had for years now,as sorting shelves in back shed are now $2. each. I’d imagine a dumping of the boxes & their being traded at a dep. for cash. :)

      Neighbours of mine, younger & stronger, ~~ couldn’t wait for the end of the bac-sac project. Not only laundry hampers, but storing kids toys in the back yard. Heck – I almost wish mine hadn’t been co-opted, with permission, by a neighbour — I’m sure I could find a use for one too.Should have thought it out before abandoning ours ~~ after all as taxpayers, we paid for them.

      I believe in blue bags.

  13. Michelle

    I’ve been in Verdun for 5 years. At first I was puzzled by the notion of buying recycling bags but after a while, you get used to it, just like when we were no longer allowed to use the smaller shopping bags to put trash on the curbs. No airborne flyers or cans rolling down the streets here.

  14. Paul

    When mine had a big crack in the middle running almost all the way thru, I tried to have it picked up by the recycling crew by leaving it empty (with a sign saying to recycle it) on top of another bin that was full.
    That didn’t work.
    I had to break it in small pieces and put it in a bag to have it picked up!


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