The recycling industry is facing an unprecedented amount of challenges. And we all may be partially to blame
"One of the biggest problems is contamination, people putting stuff in the bin they shouldn't put in the bin,” said Matt Riggs, solid waste management coordinator for the Mid-America Regional Council.
The problem of people attempting to recycle non-recyclable items is pervasive, especially regarding items known as “tanglers.”
"We've seen garden hoses. We've seen rope,” said Riggs.
There’s even hazardous items, from medical waste to chemicals.
"Syringes ... diapers,” added Riggs when mentioning the laundry list of unacceptable items consistently found coming into area facilities.
But even household items such as plastic bags aren’t recyclable via curbside pickup.
“Because when they go to be sorted, they completely gum up the machinery; they get stuck in there; they have to shut the whole place down,” said Riggs.
And “shutting the whole place down” happens a lot. Because also not recyclable is anything that’s had contact with food; so no used Styrofoam or used paper/plastic plates; the bottoms of pizza boxes aren’t even acceptable. Also not recyclable are most coffee cups or microwave meal boxes because they’re coated with polyethylene.
According to a recent report from The Recycle Partnership , only 53 percent of U.S. households have access to curbside pickup. And only half of recyclables in those homes are captured. Add in all the waste people are trying to recycle and facilities are arguably losing more money than ever before.
"It's also shooting the whole thing in the foot because you're trying to recycle everything. Well, everything isn't recyclable,” said Riggs.
So what can you recycle?
Cans, plastic bottles, any kind of paper or cardboard boxes. Everything else -- reuse or it needs to go in the trash.
For glass, the recommendation is to head a 'glass recycling center' to donate what you've collected.
Most grocery stores can recycle plastic bags as long as you return them to the store directly.
For more questions regarding what is recyclable and what isn’t, you can visit Recyclespot.org .
For local recycling directory visit tucsoncleanandbeautiful.org .
View or print the list of all the items you can put into your Blue Barrel for curbside pick-up in Tucson. For more information on curbside recycling, visit tucsonaz.gov .