When recycling trucks drive their routes through Tallahassee, they only collect recyclables from about every third house. That’s according to city recycling coordinator Paul Hurst.
“The percentage of participants is much lower than we’d like to see it,” he said.
He said the city is hoping to attract more recyclers by making the process easier. So it’s put out a request for bids to get a new kind of processor that could handle all types of recyclables at once.
“By making single-strain recycling available and it being a simpler process with fewer containers, no sorting to be done, we’ll capture some new customers,” he said.
For now, city residents have partitioned receptacles: paper goes on one side and everything else on the other. But even with that level of sorting, Hurst said, people manage to make lots of mistakes. The most common is trash in the recycle bin, and he says, sometimes it doesn’t seem like an accident.
“They don’t care, and they’ll just put their garbage in the first container that they see,” he said. “And if it’s a recycle bin, they’ll just put it in there anyway.”
Mistake or not, mis-sorted recyclables or trash in the mix can end up sending an entire bin-full to the landfill. Hurst said, the items are sorted by hand, and with tens of thousands of customers, it would be too costly to remove all contaminants. He said, that’s why it’s so important to educate the public about what can be recycled and what can’t.
Try and guess which of the following is which:
How about bagging recyclables in plastic bags?
No. “Those are a major headache for our processor,” Hurst said.
What about paper that still has paper clips and staples in it?
Or envelopes with the little plastic windows?
Yes, those are fine too. “They’re not a problem. They can just be put right in there,” Hurst said.
What about cardboard pizza boxes?
No, way! “Pizza boxes that have grease and cheese stuck to them and things like that should just be put in the garbage,” Hurst said. “Other than that, just about anything paper and cardboard-wise can go straight into the recycle container.”
Hurst said the amount of waste that the city recycles is about 15 percent the amount it puts in landfills, and that’s on par with the national average. But, he’s hoping to watch that rate rise.
“If you’re wondering why we even do it, there is sort of an unseen savings there because all that material that we collect for recycling we do not have to landfill, No. 1, and No. 2, we do not have to harvest natural resources to create that material if we can keep recycling it.”
And he hopes making it easier for people to recycle will keep that cycle going.