Single stream or “co-mingled” recycling is largely available throughout most of Hampton Roads. While this has been a wonderful convenience to our residents and has reduced the use of landfill space, it is running into some challenges. World markets (particularly in China) have seen a downturn in commodity prices; oil prices worldwide have declined decreasing the value of plastics; newsprint is not in demand as it once was; and finally, there is the contamination factor. Contamination (when non-recyclable items are mixed in with recyclable items) is something we all can help to reduce and prevent.
According to studies of residential recycling done in Newport News, we’ve found that contamination of single stream recycling can comprise between 6 and 30%.
Most of the contamination is completely preventable. Some of the most common contaminants include: plastic grocery bags, polystyrene (Styrofoam), rigid plastics (toys, car parts), dog leashes, garden hoses, clothing, diapers (infant, child and adult), food-soiled paper/cardboard, egg cartons and wax coated cardboard. While some of these items may be recyclable in other programs (i.e. plastic bags can be taken to grocery stores) or in other parts of the country, they are not accepted in curbside recycling programs here in Hampton Roads.
Contamination causes a great deal of problems for Material Recovery Facilities and processors locally and nationwide. Locally, misplaced materials can cause equipment to jam and possible injury to personnel. Typically, plastic grocery bags can shut down a facility for up to two hours per day while the plastic bags are cut out of the gears and moving parts of the machinery. Foreign materials also significantly devalue recycled material. This causes a major cost to the processors.
What can you do? “Recycle Right” by knowing what goes into your residential container, download the “Recycling Made Super Easy” poster and share it with neighbors and friends. Participate in a recycling audit or organize your own and see how a representative sample of curbside recycling really looks.
For more information on recycling audits in Newport News, contact the Newport News Resource Recovery Center at 757-886-7612.
This blog post was contributed by Dan Baxter, Business Recycling Coordinator with the City of Newport News.