Nearly 23% of what ends up in our recycle bins are items that can’t be recycled. This includes items that could perhaps be recycled elsewhere like glass (purple Ripple Glass bins!) or plastic bags (take them back to the grocery store), or items that belong in the trash like Styrofoam and paper towels.
Contributing to this problem is the practice of wishful recycling, where people who want to do the right thing and recycle, by putting items in their recycle bins and hoping that they will be recycled. Wishful recycling, combined with the confusion of what can be recycled in our curbside recycle bins, are two of the biggest obstacles facing recycling today.
As a response to this issue, Johnson County Department of Health and Environment (DHE) has developed a Recycle Right campaign aimed at reaching residents with direct feedback about correct recycling habits.
Through Recycle Right, DHE staff from the Solid Waste team with support from the recycling hauler will go house to house briefly observing recycle bins as they were placed at the curb prior to collection. They will then leave an Oops tag on top of the bin letting the resident know the items that shouldn’t be in the bin including glass, bagged recyclables, plastic bags and film, food contaminated material, etc.
Information will also be provided telling the resident recycling options that may exist, for example if they have plastic bags in their recycle bin, they will be told to take them back to the grocery store for recycling instead. Additional info is sent out with a reminder of what items do belong in the recycle bin (paper, cardboard, aluminum and tin cans, plastic bottles and containers that have the 1-7 chasing arrow number on them) and where they can find more info if they have questions (jocogov.org/recycling101).
So far Johnson County has partnered with several HOAs as well as the city of Westwood and are now looking to work with other cities and neighborhoods that are contracted with one trash and recycling hauler. In Westwood, DHE staff went to 746 homes. Of those homes, 571 had their recycle bins out. Of those 571 participating households, Johnson County put out 297 Oops Tags, a total of 52% of the homes.
While that number might sound high, nearly all those 297 homes that received Oops tags only had one or two items that didn’t belong, the other items in their bin were perfectly recyclable.
The top contaminates that were observed so far included plastic bags and product wrap. These items can get caught in the equipment at the recycling center. Plastic bags can go back to grocery stores for recycling, the other items belong in the trash.
Bagged recycling was another big issue. Residents were told to leave their recyclables loose in the bin as bagged recycling will end up going to the landfill. Paper towels, Kleenex and even used masks were also an issue. All these items also belong in the trash.
If you have questions about what can go in your recycle bin, are curious about other recycling options or want to have your city or neighborhood participate in this program, please email Brandon Hearn or call him at 913-715-6936.