Bizarre items found in our residential blue bins

Do you know what belongs in your recycling bin? The City of Calgary discloses the silly and even dangerous things that Calgarians are recycling — and it’s not pretty.

By Krista Sylvester | July 28, 2021 |7:00 am

Your blue cart is for acceptable household paper, cardboard and container packaging, but you won’t believe some of the stuff the city finds in these bins.

Photo: Shutterstock

For the most part, Calgarians try their best to recycle properly and many are quite successful. 

Yet there’s still some problematic, perplexing, and hazardous items making their way to the city’s sorting facility, says Waste & Recycling Services leader Sharon Howland. 

“Most Calgarians, they do a great job sorting or a really good job at the very least, but we do see a bit of what we call wish-cycling” she says. 

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Wish-cycling is when people are unsure if something is recyclable or not, and instead of looking it up to check, they just put it in the bin, “hoping and wishing” that it will be recycled. Usually, these people are just unsure. 

Ignorance or arrogance? 

While many people are genuinely confused, there are also Calgarians who are willfully misusing the blue and green carts. 

“We see carts with hazardous materials. This is generally non-confusion. Rather, it is what we see as an intentional disregard for the program rules,” she says, adding this is very dangerous to the city’s employees. 

“The folks that are doing this, they’re putting people at risk of serious injury and causing extensive damage to the facilities.” 

In fact, this type of misuse causes over a dozen fires per year at the recycling facility, and upwards of 20 per year in the city’s landfills, and the results can be devastating. 

“There’s equipment that gets damaged, the staff can suffer smoke exposure. If we have a fire at the recycling facility in a building full of paper, it is incredibly dangerous.” 

Another hazard of the job is when people put something like garden hoses, extension cords or Christmas lights into the recycling bin. 

“If any sort of rope or cable ends up in the recycling, it gets wrapped up on the conveyor belt. And basically, it rotates… and forms this gigantic ball that can weigh up 2,000 kilograms,” Howland says. 

That’s when the whole system jams, resulting in up to 10 employees trying to pull the so-called “giant hairball” apart. 

The do’s and don’ts of recycling 

Howlands says it’s important to remember the blue bin motto of “empty, clean, and dry” 

She says that while they sometimes find strange items that elicit laughs, it’s “not funny anymore” when they have to shut down because it causes damage. 

The city recycles 55,000 tonnes of blue bin material annually. These are just some of the items the city of Calgary has discovered in the wrong bins: 

Wacky and weird — One of the weirdest things the city found recently on the sorting belt was a giant wood Tiki head that looked like it was out of the 70s. “The facility got a chuckle out of that. Occasionally, we do see some pretty amusing items,” Howland says. They also tend to find Halloween costumes. “You weirdos — those are expensive!”

Simply silly — The city often finds items that people wrongly think are recyclable in the wrong bins. For example, an ironing board, which is most definitely not recyclable. “I can see them making the connection that ‘Oh, this is metal’, but what happens is that it can get jammed in one of the conveyor belts and we can be shut down for hours.” 

Downright dangerous — We’re talking about hazardous items like batteries and propane tanks that can cause fires and explosions. Sometimes people put bear spray, medical needles, and other medical waste. The city has even found a rifle and bullet casings in the recycle bin. “These are all very dangerous items,” Howland adds. 

When in doubt, check out these recycling tips.

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Krista Sylvester

Reporter at Calgary Citizen

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