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More than a fourth of what people put in recycling bins shouldn’t be there, audit shows

A sampling of Centerville recycling customers found that more than a quarter of the material collecting in bins was not recyclable, underlining an issue Rumpke officials are hoping to address with their audit.

The waste collection company conducted its audit of recycling bins on Monday morning in Centerville and Fairfield in hopes of understanding how much inappropriate material ends up in recycling facilities. The sampling of Centerville customers found 28 percent of material was “contaminated.”

Less contamination of recyclable materials means less time and expense Rumpke, and other trash companies, spends to correct the issues “because ultimately that cost is going to go back to there resident in some way, shape or form,” said Jill Martin, Vice President of Community Programs with the Virginia-based The Recycling Partnership, which is working with companies to reduce contamination in Ohio.

Fairfield and Centerville are doing “a pretty good job” in recycling, but the goal continues to be fine-tuning the behavior of more than 16,000 households, said Rumpke spokesperson Molly Yeager Broadwater. A focus is alerting customers that plastic bags aren’t appropriate for recyling bins.

“We saw a lot of correct stuff in there,” Broadwater said about Monday’s efforts. “There’s a lot of good that they’re doing. There’s a lot of good intentions, and now we’re going to refine(their recycling efforts) a little bit to get even better.”

Rumpke, The Recycling Partnership and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency conducted the Monday morning audit. A sample size of recycling in the two communities was sorted into specific materials in more than two dozen bins. 

Rumpke officials have discussed the contamination issue with the Ohio EPA for several years, and the state is now working with The Recycling Partnership to help reduce the amount of contaminated recycling which has conducted similar curbside recycling cleanup programs.

“Our goal and objective to understand, before it even touches any equipment, what is the contamination level that communities are bringing to the recycling,”  Martin said.

The Recycling Partnership has seen upwards of 30 percent or more contamination in recycling programs in other cities and states, she said.

Rumpke sees between 13 and 18 percent contamination in its recycling pickups, but the goal is to drop that down to 5 percent at most because “now there’s a supply and demand issue” with end users that purchase bundled recyclable materials, Broadwater said. She said there’s more supply than demand for the material as end users are cutting down on what they’re willing to accept.”

Centerville Public Works Director Doug Spitler said ultimately officials just want to educate their residents. Centerville is one of the few communities that hauls trash and recyclables to companies like Rumpke.

“We do our best to monitor what’s in the containers, but now that we’re going more automated, that’s harder to do,” Spitler said. “As we do an audit like this, we can find out the true material, partner with Montgomery County and the Ohio EPA, and then we can educate the residents.”

John Woodman, program specialist with Montgomery County, said they want people to recycle right.

“Most people mean well, the vast majority mean well but they don’t know all the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ in the current climate,” he said. “We want people to recycle the right things, and keep the wrong things out of the recycling. It increases costs to both the communities recycling centers, and it’s environmentally sound.”

Up next is the five-week curbside audit of every recycling customer in Fairfield and Centerville beginning in July. Collectors will work with an advance inspection team that will conduct the curbside audit of the 15,000 65-gallon recycling carts and smaller bins in Fairfield and the 1,200 65-gallon recycling carts in Centerville.

If the team determines there is too much contaminated or non-recyclable materials — like plastic grocery store bags, clothing, batteries or cookware — a notice will be left about what needs to be rectified.

If the contamination issue isn’t rectified, haulers won’t pick up the 65-gallon recycling carts the following week.

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