Follow the Recycling Rules!

Although today's post focuses on the city of Lafayette's curbside recycling contract and current contamination issues, the general idea is one that any resident around the country should pay attention to. Recycling bin contamination is not an isolated problem, I'm sure, and it's important for everyone to follow the rules to help ensure that we can keep recycling for years to come.

Lafayette adopted a new recycling contract effective last May - read my blog post on the changes to the program here. Eligible residents got new, larger bins, a new pickup date, and new rules on what's accepted and what's not - the biggest being no more glass pickup, and only plastics 1 and 2 accepted.

Whether it's from residents still not knowing what belongs in the recycling bin and what doesn't, or from residents not wanting to accept the changes in the program, the recycling program is facing higher contamination rates - unacceptable items being placed in the recycling bin and sent to the facility for sorting.

Last week, Lafayette Consolidated Government issued a press release regarding recycling contamination rates, which included the very real reminder that if a load of recycling is deemed contaminated, THE WHOLE THING GOES TO THE LANDFILL.

“When a load is rejected, then everything, including acceptable recycling material will be diverted to a landfill, contradicting our program goals of reducing the amount of material brought to the landfill,” says LCG Environmental Quality Manager Bess Foret. “We are working to correct the issue and have created educational tags to remind and inform residents what is and isn’t acceptable in their recycling cart.”
Yes, it's frustrating to think that our recycling efforts can be all for naught, and it's frustrating that fewer items are accepted, but it's only our fault if recycling loads are too contaminated to continue in the sorting process.

I read an article a few months back that introduced the term wishcycling - placing items in the recycling bin that aren't accepted, with the wish that they WERE, or uncertainty whether something is accepted or not. I admit I've been guilty of this, especially when throwing plastic #5 in my recycling bin. But although I feel like that kind of plastic should be accepted, it doesn't change that in this contract, it is not. So I have to throw it away.

As Earth911 says in their wishcycling article, "So, while you think you’re helping out by tossing anything and everything that could possibly, maybe, sort of be recycled into your bin, you may actually be dooming literal tons of other, properly recycled, items to the trash."

You might be asking, what specific items does Republic Services consider to contaminate recycling bin?
  • Garbage (food and liquid waste, including containers with food residue such as pizza boxes)
  • Yard waste
  • Plastic bags (should be recycled through retail centers) 
  • Large items, such as wood, plastic totes, metal, etc.
  • Glass
  • #3-#7 plastics, including Styrofoam
  • Hoses, wires, chains, etc.
  • Textiles (clothing or linen)

Now, about plastic bags. Many people use trash can liners for their in-home or in-office recycling bins, or otherwise bag recyclable materials.

The press release notes that plastic bags alone in recycling carts would not deem a cart as contaminated, but plastic grocery and shopping bags are not recycled through the curbside program. Bring all clean, plastic bags to local retail centers and grocery stores that offer high volume collection and recycling. (Read my blog post on recycling plastic bags through retail programs from this past January.)

So when it comes to dumping your recyclables in your cart before curbside pickup, empty the bag's contents into the bin. Plastic bags make it labor-intensive for employees who must manually empty the bags, plus, the bags get caught in the screeners and slow down the sorting process.

LCG suggests that if you prefer having a liner for your in-home or in-office recycling bin and don't want to empty out a plastic liner, use a cardboard box or a paper bag, which are recyclable through the program and can be naturally sorted through the system.

As a refresher, this is the postcard sent to all eligible residents last year when the new recycling bins arrived. It clearly has the list of acceptable and unacceptable items - so save this image, print it out, and keep it handy.

If you keep a small dedicated recycling bin inside your home, tape this on it as a reminder.

Make yourself familiar with the rules of recycling, and follow them. Even if it's frustrating, it's the only way we can ensure we'll keep having recycling services. Throwing glass into the recycling bin is not going to bring glass recycling back magically (although I do wish for it to come back one day!), but it is going to cause a lot of materials that ARE recyclable to be sent to the landfill instead.

Get a comprehensive review of Lafayette’s recycling program here.

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