Ontario’s recycling scraps — dirty peanut butter jars, plastic toys, and unsorted paper — are being shipped to Asia at a rate of thousands of tonnes a month.

The blue box castoffs are sorted by low-paid workers in huge factories, and recycled into inexpensive toys, shoes and colourful cardboard packages, before being sold back to Ontarians, where they fill the blue boxes once again.

Garbage experts say this revolving door is a necessary evil that will continue until the province has better recycling facilities so cities can process their own garbage.

“The question is, how much do we want to transport materials around?” said Glenda Gies, executive director of Waste Diversion Ontario, which oversees the provincial blue box program.

“We really do want to support the Ontario economy, we want to process these materials here.”

Geoff Rathbone is general manager of Toronto’s solid waste department. In addition to shipping to China, Rathbone said the city sends about 10,000 tonnes a year of its “polycoat” milk and juice cartons to South Korea.

If Toronto moves ahead with plans to recycle disposable coffee cups, it will send them to the same South Korean facility, as long as the owners can handle the influx, he said.

Still, Rathbone believes local paper mills and recycling facilities are the best option.

“In the long term, I don’t think (shipping to Asia) is a sustainable way to go,” Rathbone said.