With new state grant funding the city of Marysville hopes to improve the way local apartment complexes recycle.
The city is receiving $30,000 from the Department of Ecology and putting in $10,000 of their own funds to reduce the amount of contaminants that are found in apartment complexes’ recycling.
“This includes examples such as Styrofoam in cardboard boxes, food waste contamination of recyclables, and diapers, toys and garbage in recycle carts,” said JR Myers, solid waste supervisor with the city of Marysville.
Marysville collects their own garbage but contracts out to Waste Management for their recycling services.
Myers said city officials will be working with Waste Management to monitor where these problems occur.
“We will utilize Waste Management driver reports of contamination to identify an initial target group of properties. The recycling consultant education team will conduct container monitoring to clearly identify the contamination issues present at each multifamily property,” said Myers.
Then they will be working on education initiatives such as “door-to-door recycling engagement with residents” to talk about the correct ways to use the recycling bins.
“Contamination” of the recycling bins occurs most at the “multifamily” units, which are mainly apartment complexes, said Myers. The grant project will be targeting units that have 35 to 50 families, he said.
“Typically the multi-family complexes have a higher level of contamination in their recycling,” Myers said.
He identified a couple of reasons why that is the case.
Apartments typically have a higher turnover rate, said Myers, and people may not be used to the garbage system at a new place and may misunderstand the requirements.
Myers said it is also simply easier for single-family homes to roll their recycling cart next to the street.
For many apartment residents, recycling means carrying your bin out further to a central garbage can. “It takes a little bit more effort,” he said.
When a recycling product gets too many contaminants in it, that means more work for Waste Management.
“Technically, it’s not a problem for the city, but for our recycling service provider Waste Management,” said Myers. “When non-recyclable items are placed into the recycling bin it takes additional process time and costs on Waste Management’s end to sort the contamination out of the more valuable recyclables."
In addition, material that has been contaminated is harder to sell and the value of it is lower.
Recently China has put in place additional restrictions on the kinds of recyclable material it will purchase.
That is a problem for Washington state recyclers who tend to sell a lot of their material to China.
In response to the new Chinese regulations the Washington State Department of Ecology has been attempting to improve their recycled material, said Myers.
“It’s the main reason that the Department of Ecology is issuing these grants,” he said.
“Contamination in recycling has always been an issue municipalities have tried to address, however it has become more urgent due to new restrictions on exporting recyclables to China,” he said.
Less profit from selling material means that recycling programs will be harder to continue and sustain in the long run as well.
“We are working very hard to contain system costs and help our city partners understand that recycling costs have increased sharply,” said Jackie Lang, Waste Management’s public affairs and communications area manager for the Pacific Northwest.
“The reality, for most communities, is that keeping local programs healthy and strong will require additional funding as we move forward,” she said.
Lang said that people in Marysville who want additional information about how to properly recycle can find it at http://wmnorthwest.com/marysville/index.html.
When in doubt, she said there are three basic tips to remember: “recycle all bottles, cans, paper and cardboard, keep food and liquids out of the recycling bin, keep plastic bags out of the recycling cart, and don’t put recycling in plastic bags.”
Myers said that the end goal of the grant project is to improve the quality of recycled material.
“Success will ultimately be based on field monitoring of recycle carts, resolution of observed contamination issues, and collection of improved and clean recyclables throughout the project timeline,” Myers said.
“We’re looking forward to partnering with Waste Management and the Department of Ecology to reduce our contamination levels,” he said.