There's an increasing cost when people don't follow rules for curbside recycling

Mike DeNardo
January 07, 2019 - 4:00 am
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The economics of curbside recycling are changing, and industry representatives say there's a cost to doing it incorrectly.  

You might not realize it, but the cans, bottles and newspapers you toss in your curbside recycle bin wind up being sorted by human beings along a conveyor belt in a place like the Republic Services station in Grays Ferry.  

And you might not realize that roughly 40 percent of the stuff in recycle bins will go to a landfill because it's contaminated with moisture, food waste or things that aren't recyclable.  

Republic Services' Area Senior Manager Frank Chimera says residents can help by making sure items in the bin are clean, dry, and the right stuff.

"I'd say the biggest misconception is that anything that is recyclable can be put into their recycling bin. And here we can sort out only a certain number of materials. And there's really only about seven to nine items that are recyclable at a facility like this, and these systems were built to handle. So while there are other materials that are recyclable, they just may not be recyclable in your residential curbside program," Chimera said. 

Plastic bags may have a #2 recycle symbol, but don't put them in the recycle bin. They'll get caught in the sorting machinery.  

Cardboard? Yes.  But a greasy pizza box? No. 

Your town's website should outline which items are accepted. 

READ: Philly still collects recycling, but it only recycles about half of what it collects​

Municipalities used to be paid for recycling, but now they're paying increasingly steep prices to have it hauled away. China, which used to buy much of America's recyclables, stopped accepting them last year, saying much of it was contaminated.  

Chimera says that's led to changes in the industry. 

"One thing that we saw when this change happened, where the materials that we needed to generate needed to be cleaner than they did before, every facility had to add more people to the line, more hand sorting to try and get less contamination in our finished product which is the bales," he said. 

He says with the value of recyclables dropping, the business model is shifting to where the costs are borne on the front end, by consumers and municipalities.

Philadelphia changed recycling vendors in September after Republic Services, which had been charging $40 per ton, wanted $170 per ton.