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Improper recycling plateaus in Pulaski County; contractor says about 38% of loads contaminated

by Emily Walkenhorst | June 13, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

The amount of materials residents in Little Rock, North Little Rock and Sherwood place into their recycling bins that ends up in a landfill instead of being recycled has stayed steady at about 38 percent for the past 14 months, according to the latest reports from recycling contractor Waste Management.

Many of the same problems with contamination have continued but have plateaued in frequency, while company and local government officials have stalled on community outreach programs designed to promote proper recycling.

"It's certainly better than it continuing to trend upward or get worse," said George Wheatley, market area manager for the company in Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky.

Wheatley said the contamination rate was much lower when the cities began single-stream recycling, but it rose over time.

Dirty diapers, food waste and bagged garbage are still being thrown into recycling bins and taken to Waste Management's materials recovery facility, where they contaminate goods that are recyclable, leading workers to dump about 38 percent of what they get into the landfill.

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Depositing each ton of waste into the landfill costs the company extra money, and the company dumps hundreds of tons of materials into the landfill each month.

About 65 to 70 percent of what ends up in the landfill is actually garbage, said Rusty Miller, manager of the of facility, and the rest is recyclable material that came too close to the garbage. Clothing, yard waste, engines, rifles and other complex objects that the recycling center's machinery can't break down also continue to plague the recycling process, he said.

The wrong types of materials are being placed in recycling bins, or residents are packaging their recyclables in trash bags before placing them in their recycling bins, officials say.

Waste Management's recycling workers are instructed to automatically divert to the landfill every black trash bag picked up on recycling routes because of the possibility that it could actually be garbage, Miller said. Sometimes, workers can see through white trash bags and determine whether they contain mostly recyclable materials, he said. But the guesswork and the process of opening and emptying all of the bags takes extra time, he said.

The Regional Recycling and Waste Reduction District, a state solid waste agency operating only in Pulaski County, has discussed rolling out an education program on proper recycling. But the development of a program is on hold as the district plans to hire a new director July 1, District Deputy Director Carol Bevis said. Bevis has previously told the district's board of directors that a program would be guided in part by the results of a University of Arkansas at Little Rock survey the district paid $19,000 for last year.

The UALR survey consisted of 31 questions, some of the answers to which indicated a divide between what the district says is proper to recycle and what some people think is acceptable.

About 70 percent of the survey's respondents thought plastic grocery bags were recyclable. They were until Waste Management upgraded its facilities in 2012 to handle the current single-stream recycling method that was designed to make it easier for people to recycle. Most respondents said they sometimes recycle greasy pizza boxes, which are also considered contaminated, and about 10 percent said they sometimes recycle electronics. Waste Management equipment cannot process those, although they are recyclable at biannual recycling drives at Verizon Arena.

Many people remain unaware of a rule that prohibits trash bags, even when they have recyclables, Bevis said.

Many of the most enthusiastic recyclers are often guilty of separating their recyclables by material type and then packaging them into trash bags for recycling pickup, Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde told district officials at the district board's meeting Thursday. Hyde, the county's chief administrator, is a board member and North Little Rock resident.

"They think they're serving it to you on a platter," Hyde said.

Contamination and improper recycling has risen since the cities converted in 2012 to a single-stream recycling system in which residents no longer have to sort recyclables at the curb, officials said. Contamination was at about 18 percent when the cities began single-stream recycling.

The single-stream system has led to a surge in homes participating in recycling -- 75 percent or more -- but also to a jump in people attempting to recycle nonrecyclable items.

Metro on 06/13/2017

Print Headline: Improper recycling plateaus in county; Contractor says about 38% of loads are contaminated; plastic bags a plague


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