In Ottawa, plastic and glass recyclables go into a "blue bin", and are picked up once every two weeks as part of the regular household garbage collection.
Styrofoam is not recyclable. It has never been recyclable. The instructions on the City of Ottawa website are clear: place these items in your regular garbage. It's not like a person has to go to the website to find this out, either. Every household in the city receives recycling information on a regular basis, with lists of what can and cannot be recycled.
So why is it that, every recycling day, I see blue bins containing styrofoam? Not to mention blue bins with plastic bags. Coat hangers. Scrap metal.
I have several theories, but no evidence (if you have evidence, please let me know):
1. People are stupid. I don't believe this theory: the average person is perfectly capable of distinguishing styrofoam from non-styrofoam containers.
2. People do not read the recycling instructions, that is, people do not care enough to recycle material correctly. This is probably part of the story.
3. The recycling instructions are ambiguous and hard to follow. Again, there is probably some truth to this, too. The City of Ottawa recycling instructions list "take-out containers" as a recyclable, and "styrofoam containers" as a non-recyclable. So are take-out styrofoam containers recyclable or non-recyclable?
4. People do not want to accept that they are creating waste. They hope that, if they put their styrofoam containers or metal coat hangers into the recycling, someone, somewhere, somehow might be able to recycle them. This might be thought to be a form of loss aversion, that is, people are unwilling to accept that their styrofoam containers are, in fact, useless junk that is destined for the landfill.
5. Because of a cognitive bias called "confirmation bias" people ignore information that contradicts their beliefs and only absorb information that confirms and strengths their prior convictions. People want to believe that all types of metal, glass and other junk is recyclable, and so they ignore any information that contracts their beliefs.
6. People do not understand the economics or logistics of recycling. They do not know that putting non-recyclables in with recyclables significantly reduces the efficiency of recycling programs by making it more expensive to sort and process materials.
I don't know why people do what they do. I just know it drives me crazy.