Battle Creek is working to fix its recycling problem.
Since March, many residents’ recycling has been taken directly to the landfill because of contaminated materials. Now, the city is launching an information campaign to help people learn how to recycle properly.
Putting non-recyclable materials in curbside recycling has caused entire truckloads of materials to be sent to the landfill and can cost the city an additional $1,650 per truck in fees if the materials can’t be accepted at the recycling facility.
Battle Creek will be sending out 12,000 postcards to remind people about what can and cannot be recycled. The postcards will be sent to areas of the city where contamination has been a problem.
Battle Creek will send out 12,000 postcards later this week with information about how to properly recycle. (Photo: City of Battle Creek)
“When people call, we’ve been telling them to please continue recycling correctly. If they are, we’re doing our best to get that back to the recycling facility,” said Patty Hoch-Melluish, Battle Creek environmental and storm service manager. “We are seeing some progress, and we’re trying to focus more on the areas within the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday collection that we’re still seeing contamination”.
By working with Waste Management, some of the collection bins that were being diverted have been able to be recycled properly, according to Hoch-Melluish.
“They did an even closer look at the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday collection days and have been able to identify some areas within those collection days where the contamination is minimal enough for them to take it to the recycling facility,” she said.
Materials picked up on Monday odd-weeks are now getting to the recycling facility, and about 40% of Monday even-week pick-up is being recycled, according to Hoch-Melluish.
Still, if people want to be certain that their materials are being recycled, Hoch-Melluish recommends they continue to take them directly to the Springfield drop-off site.
The city is also sharing information about how to recycle through billboards, radio ads and informational videos on Access Vision.
“We’re doing what we can, given the inability to meet people in person and go to community meetings that aren’t happening,” Hoch-Melluish said.
In Battle Creek, plastic materials with recycling symbols #1 through #7 are accepted, and people should leave the caps on containers. Glass containers with the lids removed and metal food cans can also be recycled, as well as flattened cardboard and paperboard, office paper, junk mail and magazines. All materials must be clean and dry.
Food waste, pizza boxes and plastic bags cannot be recycled.
“Wish-cycling” is the term Waste Management Government Affairs & Communications Director Tanisha Sanders uses for people who want to recycle but don’t know what items can be put in their recycling bin.
“They have the best intentions but need education to recycle the right items,” she said in an email. “Wish-cycling is one of the leading causes of contamination.”
Contamination levels currently average around 25% of the material put in the average recycle bin, according to Sanders. These items include non-recyclable materials such as plastic toys, clothes and yard waste materials that must be sorted out and disposed of. They include waste materials that can impact employees such as propane tanks, chemicals and needles. And they include recyclable materials that have food, liquids or other contaminants on them.
Plastic bags are often a cause of contamination because they tangle the sorting equipment, Sanders said.
If people are interested in recycling plastic bags, the company recommends visiting plasticfilmrecycling.org to find a location that collects plastic bags, though these locations may have different policies due to COVID-19.
People are also asked to keep all their recycling loose in the bin and not put it inside a plastic or paper bag.
“People should not bag recyclables,” Sanders said. “They must be loose in the bin.”
If people are in doubt about whether something can be recycled, Sanders recommended that they call Waste Management at 866-797-9018 or visit the company’s website.
To recycle correctly, Sanders said it’s important for people to remember three rules:
- Recycle clean bottles, cans, paper and cardboard
- Keep food and liquid out of recycling
- No loose plastic bags and no bagged recyclables.
In addition to the information campaign, the city is also working to change the local ordinance to allow city staff to do recycling audits and lift the lid of recycling bins to see if there is contamination. This would be part of a contamination program through which city staff would tag bins to let residents know if they weren’t recycling properly.
The city’s solid waste contract is also up for renewal, and Hoch-Melluish said Battle Creek is looking at options to improve recycling such as an opt-in program, a paid recycling option or a tagging system.
“We don’t know exactly what changes will be in that contract, but we’re looking at all kinds of different options to improve recycling,” she said.
The new contract is out for bid and should go into effect next spring.
In the meantime, the city is trying to get as many people as possible recycling properly through education.
“We are making efforts to get back to recycling, we’re trying to get education out there…We’re here to provide information” Hoch-Melluish said. “Whatever we can do at the curbside, that’s really where we have to get the education to get good quality coming right from the house because it goes a long way down that recycling stream before contamination is detected or before we get it rejected.”
Contact Elena Durnbaugh at (269) 243-5938 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ElenaDurnbaugh.
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