By Suzanne Coolen 
BELLEVILLE – Close to 276,000 metric tonnes of recyclable material has been kept out of the landfills since the blue box program started in the Quinte region, 25 years ago.
According to Quinte Waste Solutions , that amount is the equivalent of over 15 million full 40 lb. garbage bags, weighing the same as 46,000 full-grown elephants.
The blue box program was started in 1990 by the Centre and South Hastings Waste Services Board and is operated municipally by the name Quinte Waste Solutions. 
“Belleville was one of the first three municipalities to start the program,” says Daniel Orr, communications coordinator for QWS. He says the number of homes participating grew quickly.
“In 1990, 11,080 blue boxes were delivered to homes in Belleville. At that time, the only material you could put in the blue box was glass bottles and jars, cardboard, newspaper, aluminum cans, steel cans, and rigid plastic containers,” he said
“Participation rates by 1993 was between 85-91 per cent, with an average weekly set-out rate of about 60 per cent.”
Orr added that the program has expanded since 1990 to include more member municipalities, more acceptable materials in the blue box, multi-residental recycling, backyard composting, a year-round hazardous waste disposal and an electronic waste depot.
High participation levels is what has made this successful, QWS General Manager Rick Clow said in a press release.
“Our award-winning municipal waste diversion service has pioneered many waste diversion innovations, and it’s because residents, since day one, bought into the program, and welcomed it with open arms,” says Clow.
“We operate on a frugal budget, and are still able to expand our programs and services.”
The recyclables all go to a plant in Trenton, known as the Material Recovery Facility, where it is hand-sorted on two lines. One for paper products, the other for plastic and metals. The MRF currently processes close to 15,000 metric tonnes of recycling each year which, once sorted, is sold to companies who re-use the material.
“All that material is staying out of landfill, and is being turned into new products we use and enjoy every day,” said Clow. “It’s awesome.”
Quinte Waste Solutions is planning some “big surprises” throughout 2015 to mark the anniversary but Orr says the plans are secret for now.
“We can’t tell you about the surprises but I can tell that it will generate a lot of interest,” he said.