At the start of the 1970s, environmental awareness had become an increasingly important topic in Canada. Factors like the formation of Environment Canada in 1971 and the 1973 Energy Crisis were noted as important triggers for necessary change.
After a 1977 garbage study, which determined that 40 per cent of the waste in landfills was paper products, Eric Hellman in Kitchener decided to organize ‘Garbage Fest 77’ to raise awareness about garbage production. In attendance at this event were a representative from Superior Sanitation, later named Laidlaw Waste Systems Ltd.; the local garbage collection contractor; as well as one of their employees, Nyle Ludolph, who managed ‘Total Recycling Systems,’ a subsidiary of Superior Sanitation.
Garbage Fest 77 was eye-opening for the community and is the reason why the contract for Superior Sanitation was extended in 1981. This extension was conditional on the basis that the company start a recycling program in Kitchener, which would be spearheaded by Nyle Ludolph. He launched the recycling pilot program on September 17, 1981 in the Kitchener Centre Ward, where over 1,000 homes were asked to separate steel cans, glass, and paper from their garbage, and place it alongside their curb for collection.
In the first month, the amount of recyclables tripled what was expected, and letters were received daily from citizens requesting to be a part of the blue box program. In 1983, Kitchener finally launched the program city-wide to 35,000 homes, and reported that 75 per cent of the homes were actively participating within the first month.
Over the years several new items have been accepted into the recycling program including corrugated cardboard and telephone books, paint cans, empty aerosol cans, grocery and retail shopping bags, all plastic tubs and bottles numbered 1 to 7, as well as drinking boxes and milk cartons. In April 2012, The Materials Recycling Centre was built in Waterloo, making it the first community-sized sorting centre in Ontario. It was renamed the Nyle Ludolph Materials Recycling Centre in honour of the “Father of the Blue Box.” In March 2017, a new standard curbside collection service launched, which included switching the blue box collection in rural areas in the four Townships from every-other-week to weekly collection. This increased blue box tonnage eight per cent in the first year of these changes.
The recycling program continues to be an integral part of the Waterloo Region community as it has helped shape the way we recycle, and how we take care of our community.