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Frequently asked recycling questions

We love that Calgarians like to recycle and do their part to help the environment. We often get similar questions around how the Blue Cart program works, so we’ve put together some answers for the most commonly asked recycling questions we receive.

I've heard that China no longer accepts recyclables from North America. Should I keep recycling?

Yes, we want Calgarians to keep putting acceptable recyclable items into their Blue Cart. There are no changes to the program at this time.

In the fall of 2017, The City stored some of the affected recyclables that were impacted by this market instability. Recycling markets like any commodity market, often fluctuate up and down so storing material is not an uncommon practice.

In 2018, Cascades Recovery , the company that sorts and markets City recyclables, has marketed all incoming mixed paper and mixed plastic produced from City recycling programs as well as moving out the backlog of stored materials.

See our recycling facility page to learn where recyclables go and what they are turned into. See our plastic clamshell update page​ for more details.

Why is it is important to recycle?

We live on a planet with limited resources and an ever expanding population. Everything we buy and use has to come from somewhere - plastic from oil, cardboard from trees, pop cans from ore mining.

There is an enormous environmental and social cost to extracting, manufacturing, consuming and ultimately disposing of all of these goods.

By recycling, we conserve resources by putting them back to productive use. More importantly, we avoid the pollution of having to extract, mine and process new resources. For instance, if you recycle plastic rather than make it from oil, it saves about one tonne of carbon dioxide for each tonne of plastic that’s recycled.

If we don't recycle, we fill up valuable landfill space with materials that could have been given a second life. Landfills are expensive to operate and when they fill up, it can be difficult to get approval to open new ones.

By implementing waste diversion programs like the Blue and Green Carts, Calgarians have saved a generation’s worth of landfill space.

Learn more about how the recycling process works by watching how recyclables are sorted video.

I’ve heard that the Blue Cart program makes money off recyclables so the program is supposed to pay for itself. Why are we charged a fee for recycling?

All eligible single-family households (up to fourplexes) receive Blue Cart recycling service. In 2018, the Blue Cart program fee is $8.50/month. That works out to about $1.96/week.

The fee covers everything from the collection trucks that visit your home to sorting over 60,000,000 kilograms of recyclables collected each year. Materials collected through the program are sold with the proceeds put back into the program to help keep your monthly fee low. A program fee is still needed as the sale of recyclables does not cover the entire cost of the program.

All City programs are based on a triple bottom line approach assessing the economic, environmental and social impacts and benefits to Calgarians. Learn more about thetriple bottom line policy framework.

While the Blue Cart program requires a small fee, in the long run it helps us recycle valuable resources while extending the life of our City landfills and delays costs of opening a new landfill.

What are 'multi-material' items and why can’t they be recycled?

Some types of packaging are made up of multiple layers of plastic, foil and sometimes paper. Some examples include Pringles containers, coffee bean pouches, chip bags and granola wrappers.

Multi-material items can't be recycled because the different layers of material can’t be pulled apart for sorting.

In addition, the sorting equipment at the recycling facility can’t tell multi-material packaging from similar, recyclable material. As a result, it gets mixed in with the good stuff.

This results in lower-quality recyclables that are sold for less. Since proceeds of recyclables help keep the Blue Cart fee low, this could cost you money!

Sometimes I’m not sure if an item is recyclable so I’ll put it in and let the recycling facility figure it out. What’s wrong with that?

We use the term "wishcycling" for when people put items in their recycling that they are unsure about and hope get recycled.

The problem is that wishcycling costs you money. Our recycling is sorted both by hand and by machine. It's the job of the staff at the recycling facility to identify and hand pick out the unacceptable materials.

The more unacceptable materials, the more staff and time is needed to sort them out. We also then have to pay to truck it to the landfill and dispose of it.

If unacceptable items bypass the staff, these unacceptable materials end up mixed in with the good material. This can lower the quality of the material when manufacturers go to turn it into a new product.

Use our What Goes Where online recycling and disposal search tool to help figure out if an item is acceptable in the Blue Cart program instead of wishcycling.

Can’t any plastic item with a recycling number/symbol go in the blue cart?

Not all items can be recycled in the Blue Cart program even if they have a recycling number and/or symbol on them. Unacceptable plastic items include toys, laundry baskets, and foam packaging.

The recycling number and/or symbol on plastic items helps manufacturers identify different types of plastics. It does not necessarily indicate that the product can be recycled or is made from recycled content.

Should I now put paper products in the green cart instead of recycling?

Clean paper products should be put in your blue cart for recycling. Recycling paper products means that manufacturers will be able to produce new paper products out of these recyclables right away. By recycling clean paper products we are conserving valuable resources and avoiding the pollution associated with having to extract and process new resources (in this case trees).

Paper products that are soiled with food residue can't be recycled, but can be composted. Please put food soiled paper products such as paper plates and napkins in your green cart for composting.

Why can’t foam products be recycled?

Foam products are not accepted in our recycling programs for a few reasons. When foam is collected:

  • It gets compacted inside the collection trucks and breaks into small pieces and beads.
  • These small pieces and beads get mixed in with paper and other light recyclables, contaminating them.
  • Contamination results in lower quality recyclables that are difficult, if not impossible, to sell.

Foam is also a very light material. It can’t be sorted properly by the equipment at the recycling facility the way that we can sort heavier plastic containers.

I can bag shredded paper for recycling. Why can’t I bag other items so they can be sorted and recycled?

We ask you to put items loose into your blue cart, with the exception of shredded paper and plastic bags.

  • Shredded paper - because the pieces are so small they can't be sorted by the equipment.
  • Plastic bags - because if left loose, are so light they fly around and can jam our equipment.

Bagged items need to be hand-sorted by staff at the recycling facility. The staff are responsible for handpicking out items from about 60,000,000 kg of material each year.

We strive to get the best value out of our recyclable materials and to keep program costs low so that we can keep the monthly Blue Cart program fee reasonable. Handpicking more materials out would require more staff and considerably more money.

Most exception items like electronics, household batteries and toys can be dropped off elsewhere for recycling or donated to charitable organizations.

You can check out your options using the What Goes Where online recycling and disposal search tool.

Why can’t I leave extra recyclables next to my blue cart?

There are three main reasons that we ask that you don’t leave extra recycling next to your blue cart.

  1. Recycling tends to be light and can get caught by the wind and spread through the neighbourhood.
  2. Unlike garbage, your blue cart material needs to stay dry so it can be effectively recycled.
  3. Recyclables need to be loose in your cart so the machines at the facility can sort them properly.

If you have extra recycling, hang on to it for the next week or take to a community recycling depot.​