Recycle Right Morgantown’s friendly reminders aim to decontaminate our recycling.
One day soon, residents may return home on recycling day to find Oops! tags hanging from their recycling bins. The tags are a public education campaign of Recycle Right Morgantown, a city initiative that aims to clean up Morgantown’s recycling stream.
“On average, about 30 percent of all curbside recycling has contamination,” says Morgantown Recycling Manager Vanessa Reaves—that is, more than one in four items placed in recycling bins can’t be recycled. “It’s a nationwide problem.”
Morgantown recycles both to preserve expensive landfill capacity and to minimize its environmental footprint. The city adopted single-stream recycling in 2013 as a convenience to residents—instead of having to sort, residents can put all recyclables on the curb together to be sorted at the materials recovery facility (MRF). But when a load includes too many contaminants—food containers that are recyclable but haven’t been rinsed, for example, or aluminum foil or light bulbs that simply can’t be recycled—it has to be landfilled.
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Fill out Recycle Right Morgantown’s online survey between now and the end of October for a chance to win three free months of service. recyclerightmorgantown.com
Long an industry bugaboo, the contamination problem got serious a couple years ago when China cut back on the used plastics it would buy because the recyclables were too contaminated. That pushed the problem back to the materials recovery facilities, the recyclables haulers, and, ultimately, communities like ours.
Luckily, it’s easy to learn what can be recycled, and Recycle Right is here help. “First, we’re mailing out ‘how to recycle’ guides with do’s and don’ts in MUB bills,” Reaves says.
Then comes direct feedback through the Oops! tags. Volunteers will walk ahead of recycling trucks, open bin lids, and view the contents. Obvious contamination will result in an Oops! tag, and the contents won’t be recycled that week. Common mistakes are electronic waste and scrap metal, styrofoam food containers, greasy pizza boxes, and plastic garbage bags.
The Oops! campaign is expected to begin in October. That gives residents time to refresh their understanding of the recycling rules and sharpen their skills this summer to avoid getting tagged in the fall.
We can easily learn to recycle better, but it’s only part of the solution to reducing what’s landfilled, Reaves reminds us. “A first step is being thoughtful about what you purchase and how you purchase it—reducing waste at the checkout.” recyclerightmorgantown.com
posted on May 27, 2020
written and photographed by Pam Kasey