Recycling is messy.
That's not just a statement about sorting facilities or the lack of post-consumer recycled material availability as brand owners pledge to increase their use of recycled material or public policy issues such as California's new legislation that covers extended producer responsibility and high targets for recycling. This is about the day-to-day process of curbside recycling, specifically about how poor separation of recyclables from nonrecyclables by homeowners is hurting recycling programs.
In Denison, Texas, city leaders may revise their curbside program as its waste hauler reports that 60 percent or more of what goes into bins is contaminated by leftover food, plastic bags or other items. As a result, entire loads of collected items end up being landfilled rather than recycled.
The city is considering alternatives as its recycling collection contract expires early next year, local television station KTEN reports. It would like to retain curbside recycling, but that's not guaranteed.
Contamination is also a concern in my hometown, Ann Arbor, Mich., which recently upgraded its recycling system.
To cut down on contamination, it will use funds from a $790,000 grant to put "feet on the street" — inspectors who will open residential recycling bins to check that they only contain acceptable items.
"If the [inspector] sees something in the recycling cart that does not belong there, an orange 'oops' tag will be placed on the cart with clear feedback on how to fix it," the city informed residents. "If material that is not recyclable in your curbside cart is found in the cart on the future visit, the recycling cart will be tagged with a red tag and will not be serviced until the contamination is removed."
Obviously, it's expensive to have a program like that, but as the case in Denison, Texas, shows, there are also high costs to doing nothing.