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Recycling Stewards

Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rethink!

The culture of consumption is wasteful in its use of resources. The phrase “reduce-reuse-recycle” is common, but too often we focus on recycling of materials and we neglect to reduce our consumption or rethink our use, and reuse, of products. Unnecessary consumption in turn feeds growth of solid waste and greenhouse gas emissions- leading to environmental issues.

What materials are unnecessary and can be refused before they are ever used?

What does the “R” rethink refer to?

How can we rethink what we need to use?

What can be recycled, reused or reduced? 

How much garbage do Canadians generate?

Garbage waste can be sorted into three categories:

  • compostable
  • garbage
  • recyclable

Gargage must be dealt with by being destroyed, by burning (which causes its own issues), or hidden by burying (which doesn't really deal with the issue).

Unlike garbage, recyclable materials can be broken down and rebuilt into new items like pillow stuffing, traffic cones or even the lining in ski jackets! This requires energy however, and is not a environmentally useful as refusing to use a product.

Recycling and rethinking a way to reuse items reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.  


Recycling Sort Relay
Recycling Plastics Game
Classroom Recycling Challenge
Repurposing Trash 
Making Paper
Biodegradable Seedling Pots
Self-Watering Planter


  • Describe the environmental importance of recycling.

  • Identify the impact that garbage/ landfills have on the environment.

  • Identify recyclable materials, and sort household recycling.

  • Describe the process of recycling as it relates to the creation of recycled paper.

  • Identify ways to reduce garbage production.


  • see individual activities for materials.


In 2016, Canadians generated approximately 25 million tonnes of garbage a year and only recycled about 30 per cent of that material, 10.2 million tonnes (41 per cent) of that waste in 2016 came from everyday household waste. Each person produced about 2.7 kg of garbage each day.

This garbage does not simply disappear when it leaves our sight. It is piled up into large areas called landfills. Unfortunately, our existing landfills are filling up and we have to find new locations for them. The garbage from the City of Vancouver is taken by truck miles out of the city to be dumped, burned or buried.

The solution? Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rethink!

These five Rs are ways to think about consumption reduction, and thus waste reduction. Any product takes resources and energy to be made, including when it is recycled.If we refuse unnecessary materials, reuse the products we already have and rethink new uses for materials, less new products need to be made. And if we can reduce the amount of products, then less energy is needed.

All kinds of materials can be reused, repurposed, and recycled, including tin cans, paper, glass, plastics, batteries and cell phones. However, if these items are not recycled, it may take up to 1 million years for them break down.

  • Some plastics takes a million years to break down.
  • Tin cans take 100 years to dissolve.
  • Aluminum cans take 500 years to disintegrate.
  • Paper takes 80 years or more to break down.
  • Glass may take 1 million years to break down.

Newly-recycled material can be back in circulation or use in as little as eight weeks.

  • For example, a glass container takes 8–12 weeks to be recycled and put back on a shelf.
  • The life of an aluminum can is about five weeks. That means it takes five weeks for a can to be collected, transported, melted down, remade, refilled and put back on a store shelf.

Recyclable materials are broken down and recycled through very different processes, taking varying amounts of energy.

For example: Glass is sorted by colour, crushed, mixed, melted and molded into new shapes.  Newspaper is made into pulp, cleaned, aerated, screened, bleached, pressed, cut and baled into usable recycled paper.

To make a shift in our consumption and production lifestyles, we will need to do more, we need to Rethink. We need to challenge our current way of living and find a way that is more sustainable. In Metro Vancouver, a goal of Zero Waste is being stressed. To achieve this, the rethinking of Metro Vancouver’s waste systems is currently in place. Part of rethinking our waste is trying to upcycle waste products. Instead of things going through the energy intensive process of recycling, we can turn waste products into new products using creative designs.


Biodegradable: A type of waste, typically originating from plant or animal sources, which can be broken down by other living organisms.

Compost: A decomposed mixture of household leftovers and garden scraps used to improve soil and provide nutrients.

Garbage: Discarded or useless material.

Landfill: A large area of land or an excavated site where collected garbage is deposited and stored until it breaks down or dissolves—which usually takes million of years.

Pulp: A mixture of cellulose material, such as wood, paper and rags, ground up and moistened to make paper.

Recycle: To pass or put through a cycle again for further treatment.

Reduce: To bring down or lower the number of something.

Rethink: To challenge our current concepts and systems, and create different ones.

Reuse: To use something once again.

Upcycle: To find a creative new use of an old waste product.

Other Resources

Science World Resources | Snowflakes out of recycled pop can holders (PDF)

Metro Vancouver |Outreach | Zero Waste Challenge

Recycling Council of BC  | Recycling Programs and Resources

City of Vancouver  | What goes into the recycling bin?

David Suzuki Foundation | What you can do | Reduce your carbon footprint

Return-It School

Climate Justice in BC | Rethinking Waste

Metro Vancouver | Services | Solid Waste 

North Shore Recycling Program | Programs

National Geographic | Plastic Recycling Guide