- With recycling contamination on the rise, more cities are making the choice to dig into bins and tell residents what they're doing wrong. Facing an estimated $5-6 million in annual contamination costs, Toronto recently launched a six-month pilot program that involves temporary staff inspecting carts and tagging any that have too many unacceptable items, as reported by CBC News.
- Ocala, FL will start inspecting residents' recyclables next week, leaving behind notices for any items not included in the city's program and possibly skipping collection for containers with too many issues. This is motivated by potential fines that could reach up to $100,000 per a new contract with Waste Pro that sets strict contamination limits, as reported by the Ocala Star Banner.
- In Logan, UT, seasonal interns have also been spotted out on the streets for the second year in a row doing similar work to inspect containers and leave behind educational material as needed, as reported by the Herald Journal.
In these three cities alone, the array of items often found in recycling bins is diverse — frying pans, auto parts, textiles, polystyrene foam, greasy pizza boxes, duct tape covered in cockroaches — though they also follow a similar pattern. One or two categories, such as plastic film and glass, often comprise the bulk of a city's issues. When those items aren't addressed, and they get mixed in with the more unique offerings put out by residents, the results can become expensive for cities and service providers alike. Both Toronto and Ocala estimate that their contamination rates could be in the 20-25% range.
For the many cities that have now switched to single-stream with the goal of increasing their capture rates, these rising costs have been an unwelcome result. Recent examples include Providence and Chicago, where abnormally high contamination rates have forced local governments to rethink their education strategies in the face of rejected loads and steep costs. This has led some in the industry to question whether the convenience is worth the resulting contamination and call for more tailored approaches to city programs based on local end markets and other factors.
Though aside from a few smaller municipalities, the overall trend has been to stick with single-stream and step up education. The Recycling Partnership has been working with states such as Massachusetts and Ohio to offer materials and guidance in this process. Other cities, such as Austin, have taken the idea a step further by conducting in-depth interviews with residents to get at the psychology of their recycling behavior. So far many of these results have been positive and indicate it may be possible to adjust residents' habits enough to avoid the types of big costs that are becoming more common in these programs.