Nikki Schiebel holds a degree in wildlife biology from McGill University and a master’s degree in environmental education, yet she can be seen wandering NDG streets looking through people’s recycling bins most Monday and Tuesday mornings.
She isn’t collecting used cans or bottles for herself - instead she’s spreading awareness by leaving notes on people’s bins about any items she finds that aren’t supposed to be there.
She routinely does this because she works for the NDG Éco-quartier, but also because, as recent studies have shown, confusion still reigns when it comes to recycling in Quebec.
A survey by Éco Entreprises Québec (ÉEQ) showed that up to half of the province is confused as to what belongs and what doesn’t in recycling bins.
Here in CDN-NDG, Éco-quartier is funded by the municipality, and Schiebel says that roughly 75 per cent of her job consists of spreading awareness, whether it be through bin verifications or the many workshops the organization offers to daycares, kindergartens, schools and businesses.
This year the organization visited every single business in NDG, delivering explanations about what is recyclable in Montreal. Schiebel says about 90 per cent of them accepted recycling bins, with more than 400 handed out overall.
The same study from ÉEQ and Recyc-Québec showed that 15 per cent of materials that end up in recycling bins across the province don’t belong there.
From her experience in the borough, Schiebel says that most of the repeatedly mistaken material is plastic number six items (polystyrene containers). Though other municipalities in Quebec may recycle them, it’s not the case in Montreal.
“What we’ve seen is that there’s a lot of misinformation that gets spread between people, maybe people who come from other areas, who see different rules in different municipalities,” she said, surrounded by recycling posters and pamphlets inside the NDG Éco-quartier offices on Somerled Ave.
Results from the study show that costs associated with processing these materials represent nearly $23 million.
“If you live in NDG and you put the wrong things in your bin, it will travel from here to Saint-Michel, where it will get refused, and then it will have to go to Lachenaie, using a lot more gas along the way,” said Schiebel.
“The treatment plant is really run by human beings - it’s not automated. So that’s a cost, and it all accumulates,” she said.
Schiebel has been with Éco-quartier for six years and says she believes that there has been significant improvement in the borough over that time.
She explained that recycling is usually the first step, followed by composting and then further green initiatives.
“A lot of people do their recycling, and this borough is very, very strong in composting. I would find it hard to believe that there are lot of people who are composting who aren’t recycling,” she said.
She hopes to continue to spread awareness, and help lower the number of people who are still “confused” about the process.
“Anywhere where someone will invite us, we will happily go and talk about recycling.”