ITHACA, N.Y. —Do you recycle correctly every single time, or do you sometimes put items in the bin hoping they are recyclable? Maybe you’ve put something in the recycling bin because you didn’t want to throw it in the garbage. Now, more than ever, you need to be mindful about how you sort your materials.
Items that don’t belong in the recycling stream are contaminants. These can include trash, or items that have to be recycled separately. When contamination occurs, it can slow down recycling operations, degrade the quality of recycled material, and ultimately lower the value of recyclable commodities. Recyclables with contamination can be outright rejected by markets, causing otherwise perfectly good materials to go to a landfill at great expense.
“Tompkins County’s current contamination rate is approximately 10%, but we need to achieve a contamination rate of less than 1%,” said Tompkins County Waste Reduction and Recycling Specialist, Seth Dennis. “Common sources of contamination include plastic bags, Styrofoam, padded envelopes, coffee cups, and cigarette butts.”
In addition to ongoing public education and outreach campaigns, the Department of Recycling and Materials Management will implement an enforcement plan. Beginning in December, recycling bins with contamination will receive orange “Warning” stickers, giving residents an opportunity to take note of recycling mistakes they made. Beginning in February, residents who put unacceptable items in their recycling container will receive a red “Rejected” sticker and the contents of their bin will not be collected.
Information about what items are accepted for recycling can be found at recycletompkins.org, and in the 2019-2020 Curbside Recycling Guidelines brochure, available at all municipal offices, the Department of Recycling and Materials Management office, the Recycling and Solid Waste Center, and at the customer service desk of most grocery stores in Tompkins County. RecycleTompkins.org also features a useful “What Do I Do With?” tool, which allows residents to search for information about how to recycle or dispose of any item.
The Department of Recycling and Materials Management would like to thank residents and the community for taking note of proper recycling and adjusting their habits accordingly.