With value of recyclables falling agency planning push to educate trash customers

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LINN COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG)- The push to get more people to recycle paper, plastic and other items to keep them out of the landfill may need some tweaking. And the Cedar Rapids-Linn County Solid Waste Agency hopes recyclers can learn some new habits in the coming months.

The Resource Recovery building at the Cedar Rapids-Linn County Solid Waste Agency. Operators estimate about 7 to 10% of items in the recycling pile don't belong here.

This push comes as there was news out of Des Moines this week about recycling there. The processor handling the paper, plastic, cardboard and other items had apparently taken a lot of recyclables for months and put them back into the trash. The reason given was simply no buyers for the material and no place to put it.

Joe Horaney, a spokesperson for the solid waste agency, says putting recyclables back into the trash hasn’t happened here. But the system of picking up combined paper, plastic and other items curbside in order to keep them out of the landfill is under strain.

China was the largest market for turning recyclables from the U.S. into new products.

But sales to China have fallen dramatically and the value of items collected has fallen as well.

“Recycling is all market driven and so right now the markets are low and mixed paper, for example, had no value for months. So you had recyclers stockpiling that material for months waiting for a market for it,” Horaney said.

The value of paper is now about $5.00 a ton. But the solid waste agency pays a local processor $65 a ton for the cost of handling, with half the money coming from the agency and half from customers of various trash haulers as part of a recycling fee.

One of the problems of getting value out of recycled material is the amount of “contaminated” items that come from recycling bins.

Items like plastic bags, Styrofoam, plastic sheeting and similar things can’t be recycled. Cardboard still has value but Horaney says if it comes from pizza boxes, with grease or food still attached, then it should go into trash and not recycling or the processor might reject it and take everything in that load to the trash.

And he says people need to take more care with recycling or the cost to customers to pay for the program will keep going up.

To help with that, the solid waste agency is planning to launch a campaign this spring called “empty, clean and dry.”

It will try to help people understand why it’s important to keep unwanted items out of the recycling and to understand what can and can’t be recycled.

“People really want to make a difference, we call them aspirational recyclers. They want to recycle everything. Everything can’t be recycled. To make it count, empty clean and dry,” he said.

Horaney says the holiday season also brings in an influx of recycled items that should go to the trash and not the recycling bin.

That holiday list includes Christmas wrapping paper, Christmas lights and alkaline batteries.