Recycling: What Gives, Manitoba?

February 24th, 2009 by Emma Durand-Wood

A few weeks ago there was a lot of buzz about Manitoba being the worst recyclers in the country. In some ways, I am surprised. In others, not so much.

One of the consequences of living in lots of different places is that you start to compare them to each other. I’m sure everyone I know is sick of hearing me say,  “Well, in BC, we…” and “Actually, Alberta does it like this…”, but this is one topic where I think it’s fair to make comparisons.

Aside from the beer deposit, there is no deposit system in the province.

There is a refundable deposit for beer bottles, but as far as I can tell, the only other fee is a two cent/container WRAP levy. Seriously!

Well. I was appalled to learn the other day that Winnipeg restaurants generally throw their wine bottles in the garbage. They don’t even recycle them! Apparently, they have to pay for recycling service, so that’s the consequence. (Seriously. We drink a lot of wine in this house, but all those bottles either get recycled or set aside for use in homemade wine bottling. If what they say about Winnipeg having the most restaurants per capita is true, I can’t even begin to fathom how many wine bottles are being thrown into the garbage every day.)

In BC, you’d put your empties in the lane and they’d be gone in the blink of an eye. Why? Binners scoured the neighbourhood regularly, because each container was worth at least five cents. The bottle collecting phenomenon in Vancouver was actually pretty inspiring (see the self-sustaining social enterprise United We Can). You paid a deposit on alcohol containers as well as tetra packs, water bottles, etc., and it was no big deal because you could either take your empties back, or know that someone would do it for you. And guess what? I don’t remember anyone ever entertaining the idea of throwing a bottle into the garbage.

I remember, as a child  in Alberta, exciting trips to the bottle depot, where we’d take boxes of empty pop and beer bottles, and in exchange for helping, sometimes get a cut of the refund (a couple bucks is a big deal to a little kid!). Likewise, bottle drives are a very popular fundraiser amongst youth groups and sports teams.  (Bonus: our local bottle depots were run by the Rehabilitation Society of Southwestern Alberta – which meant that on top of giving people a chance to get their deposits back, they give people with disabilities job opportunities.)

The City of Winnipeg has an excellent and convenient blue box system. It is coordinated with garbage pickup, so you only need to remember one day to set your stuff out. You can recycle practically anything (milk cartons included), you don’t need to sort your recyclables…pretty much anything goes. It took me months to accept that I don’t need to remove the labels from cans before blue boxing them – but you don’t (in fact, they tell you NOT to remove them). Just toss ’em in! The City has a whole page of FAQs to tell you how to best use the blue box service.

So, if you can recycle almost anything (which from the sounds of it, you can) why are Manitobans the worst recyclers? At a mall food court the other day, we witnessed a guy toss a plastic pop bottle into the garbage bin, when there was a recycling bin literally two feet away! The only explanation is that it isn’t in most people’s routines or mindsets.  As fellow Winnipeg blogger Prairie Topiary puts it, “There’s a lot more we can do – more of our public institutions and big corporations stepping up to the plate with public awareness advertising and leadership by example would be a great start.”

City Hall only just got on board with full recycling, and I hope that now that this fact has hit public consciousness, that local and provincial government will do more to make recycling attractive, convenient, and not without incentive. Fingers crossed!

7 Responses to “Recycling: What Gives, Manitoba?”

  1. kelsey says:

    wait wait wait did you just reference Alberta doing recycling right? Since coming to BC I’ve realized just how awful Calgary is. Someone out here referred to Victoria needing to get real because they don’t have curbside composting yet! I was agast, in Calgary they voted down curbside recycling because John and Jane Public didn’t want to spend a few extra dollars each month! It was around then that I decided to head West. Take it to the streets Ema!

  2. Emma says:

    I did! Every system has its problems, I guess. I know curbside recycling went by the wayside in hometown a long time ago. At that point we started taking our recycling to the stations that were located at almost every major grocery store. There’s that convenience factor again! As long as you have a car, I guess… Anyway, it’s funny that Calgary’s system sucks. Apparently Edmonton’s is the best in the country! They should use a little friendly Calgary-Edmonton rivalry to work on that problem.

    Also: curbside composting? Awesome!

  3. Steve Matthews says:

    FWIW, while living in Ontario I found out the hard way that there was no deposit on pop bottles. I arrived at the local A&P with five bags of returns, only to be laughed at. VERY different world after coming from UVic.

    … where, btw, curbside composting is for amateurs. Composting is a backyard gardener’s tradition, with a variety of different techniques. 🙂

  4. Anny says:

    Just heard about your site. Love promoters/critics of Winnipeg. I agree wholeheartedly with this post!

  5. Mike says:

    Welcome to Winnipeg!

    I just saw the link to my site and came by today for the first time. I myself moved back to Winnipeg (where I grew up) a few years ago and am also in shock because of the Environmental-blinders in the city. Shocking.

  6. Emma says:

    Hey Mike! Thanks for stopping by! I keep meaning to update this post with the news that the city might change the name from “Garbage Day” to “Recycling Day” – I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.

    Anyway, we like your blog and are excited to join the Winnipeg blogosphere!

  7. Kyle says:

    Actually a lot of apartment blocks do not do recycling at all. If I want to recycle, I have to truck it off to a depot or put it in the recycling box at my parents house.