The city of Union is dealing with a contamination issue regarding recycling. Namely, what is — and isn’t — recyclable.
According to Union City Administrator Russell Rost this is a nationwide problem, that is being experienced locally.
“The real issue with recyclables is with the contamination levels,” Rost said. “I think it’s partly an educational problem, and partly a situation where new residents move in and don’t understand the difference between the yellow-lid cans and the black-lid cans.”
The yellow-lids indicate recycling and the black-lids indicate garbage. Rost said that when even just a few people contaminate their recyclables with things such as yard waste, food and other garbage, the whole community is affected.
“If a truck takes a load to the center for recyclables, and they say it’s contaminated, they can’t take it,” he said. “So, that truck has to be diverted to a landfill and all the material will be dumped in the landfill.”
Union uses a single-stream system that has been in place since 2010. Single stream allows all recyclables that are collected by the city and its waste management partner, Waste Connections, to be placed together in one bin. Materials don’t need to be separated.
“It’s a good concept because it allows more people to participate in the program. People didn’t want to go through the extra trouble of sorting through bottles and glass, and the different recyclables,” Rost said. “It is a good program because it allows for more material, but it also has the side effect of adding more contaminants when people don’t recycle properly.”
Rost said that recycling centers where the recyclables are sorted out, understand that it’s nearly impossible to have a 100 percent contaminate-free truckload. However, having too many contaminants is becoming a new normal.
“They have people at the recycling center that will report it,” he said. “They are OK if some things that aren’t recyclable make it into the distribution, but they’re not happy when the good recyclables are contaminated by greases, vegetation and other trash, to a level they can’t sort it without more manpower, they’re just not going to accept it.”
A brochure that shares all waste management information — yard waste, trash and recycling — is available at city hall. It also can be found at unionmissouri.org/living_here/new_residents/trash_hauling_and_recycling/index.php.
Rost said as part of an effort to educate the public, the city is currently working on making a new brochure with the help of Waste Connections. The city also is developing other ideas to help deter contaminants.
“We are working on a new warning sticker that we could put on the recycle container when it’s been contaminated,” he said. “It would be a notice for recyclables only and have information for residents that will tell them what is allowed.”
Rost also said that if residents don’t have curbside pickup available, there are three recycling containers behind Union City Hall.
The city administrator said the situation needs to improve.
“The whole point is to protect the recycle program so we don’t have to discontinue it altogether,” he said. “Some cities have had to do it.”
Recycling become a problem in many communities around the United States when China stopped accepting virtually all recyclables imported to the country. A big reason why is because of plastic contaminants.
“We are going to continue our efforts to keep the program viable,” Rost said. “It’s just a matter of getting the correct information to the people that need it.”