- Officials in Toledo, OH, are looking for new ways to reduce recycling contamination through inspection and resident engagement. Currently, about 37% of the 22,000 tons of recyclables collected in the city each year are unacceptable and being sent to a landfill, as reported by the Toledo Blade.
- Republic Services collects the materials and ReCommunity Recycling processes them. This year, Toledo is paying ReCommunity $1.5 million. That is up from $1.08 million last year and the costs are expected to rise if contamination rates can't be kept in check.
- Last year, Toledo spent $15,000 for two part-time employees to inspect recycling carts and leave feedback for residents. Among the items they found were yard waste, food waste, shingles, a small trampoline, an aquarium, golf clubs and many plastic bags.
Toledo's contamination issues have become a priority for the city over the past year, following a May 2016 event where Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson spoke at a recycling facility and urged residents to take more care in their separation habits. While residents are currently diverting close to 20% of the waste they generate, that number drops significantly when factoring in the high contamination rates. City officials have said they used to actually make money from the recyclables collected and have expressed a desire to cut contamination rates in half.
Like many large cities, Toledo has a single-stream recycling system that is intended to increase participation rates but may also be leading to more contamination. The city does have a fine system in place, but it has refrained from issuing any tickets recently. This approach follows a wide range of educational efforts in cities around the country led by government agencies, collection companies and non-profits such as The Recycling Partnership that focus more on education than punitive enforcement.
The concept often involves working directly with local collection or processing to figure out what the most problematic items are in their waste stream and where they're coming from. From there, targeted education can be developed to affect behavior change. That approach has reportedly been delivering results in multiple cities and is catching on in at the state level in Massachusetts and Ohio. Though recent reports of high contamination costs from Providence, Chicago and a number of other smaller cities show that much more work is needed to educate residents and fully realize the potential of single-stream.