Don't put motor oil in the blue bin, and other rules for successful recycling in Reno-area

Recycling has never been easier since the adoption of single stream recycling in February 2017. But Washoe County recycling customers are still learning the ins and outs of what can and can't be disposed of in the blue bins.

The Reno Gazette Journal talked to Waste Management to find out exactly what can be recycled and what happens if you don't recycle correctly. 

What is single stream recycling?

In single stream recycling, plastic, paper, glass and aluminum can all be deposited into one bin. As soon as it gets to the plant, it is sorted into each category. 

WM reported single stream recycling "modernizes curbside collection in Reno and helps the community far exceed the 35 percent recycling mandate set forth by Washoe County."

While WM was unable to provide an exact rate of how much waste is diverted from landfills to recycling centers, WM spokeswoman Kendra Kostelecky said customers “well exceed” 35 percent diversion and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection estimated the countywide recycling rate was 24.6 percent in 2017.

What can be put in a recycling cart?

While the idea of single stream recycling is everything can be put in one bin together, it is important to note only certain recyclables can be put inside for pick-up. 

These include, according to WM:

  • plastic bottles, jars, jugs and tubs
  • paper products, including cardboard and paperboard (flattened), newspapers, magazines and printer paper
  • glass bottles and jars
  • tin, aluminium and steel food and beverage cans

What can't be recycled?

Just as many recyclables can be put in single stream carts, many cannot. According to Kostelecky, nearly 25 percent of the items in recycling bins are meant for trash cans.

WM warns of specific things to be kept out of recycling, including:

  • food or food-soiled materials
  • plastic bags
  • cords, wires and hoses
  • multi-material food wrappers, such as chip bags and wax-lined coffee cups
  • broken dishes
  • electronics and batteries
  • yard waste and grass clippings
  • foam cups or containers
  • diapers and bags of pet waste
  • clothing 
  • shoes
  • hazardous and medical waste, such as needles and chemicals
  • liquid waste

According to Reno Waste Management Materials Recovery Facility Manager Mickey Eckman, many items can still be recycled, but not in the single stream system. 

Many items are hazards to workers and the equipment itself. For example, Eckman warned that while rubber garden hoses can be recycled, they commonly get caught in the gears and can stop it completely. 

Other items and substances such as food waste, hazardous materials and pet waste have potential to contaminate entire containers of "perfectly good" recycling, according to Eckman. 

Kostelecky said she has seen carts of recyclables ruined by things such as motor oil poured into the bin. Not only did the oil soak the papers that could have otherwise been recycled, it also could have started a fire had the papers made it into the sorting facility.

What if I don't recycle correctly?

To curb single stream recycling contamination, WM has implemented a recycling contamination program. When a recycling truck driver spots contamination, they document it with a photo to attach to the resident's account and do not service the cart.

he first two contamination offenses result in notification letters. The third and fourth result in small fines. After the fifth incident, the cart is removed. 

Kostelecky said the recycling contamination program has been an effective way to help educate the public on recycling.

“I would definitely say the program has been successful because most people did not know they were doing anything wrong until they got the letter, and most corrected their recycling practices before even reaching the fee stage,” Kostelecky said.

Since the program began over a year ago, only 86 carts collectively have been pulled from Reno, Sparks and unincorporated Washoe County, according to Kostelecky.

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