Of the Keizertimes

So, you opened your most recent garbage bill and found a $10.83 charge for recycling contamination. Now what?

First, don’t get mad, get information.

“We’re using the contamination charges to have the conversation with customers,” said Greg Dittman, operations manager for Valley Recycling and Disposal.

If it’s the first time you’ve had the charge appear on your bill, both Valley Recycling and Loren’s Sanitation are willing to wipe it off the slate in return for a few minutes of education regarding what can and can’t go into the blue commingled recycling bins.

Contamination charges are receiving more attention lately as haulers try to realign expectations for what can and cannot be recycled. The businesses are trying to adapt to changes in China’s market for recyclable materials that call for stringent refusal of contaminated items.

What accounts for contamination? Garbage that should have been put in the gray bin, glass, styrofoam, plastic film (like shopping bags), child car seats (yes, it happens), blue tarps, carpet padding and more. Anything that potentially pollutes the downstream usage of recyclable material can cause a major disruption.

At a processing plant, a single plastic shopping bag can halt the entire line when it gets wound up in the machinery and needs to be cut out. On a more local level, putting something like motor oil in the blue bin can have a rippling effect.

If a driver doesn’t notice the container with the oil and it ruptures inside the truck, an entire load of recyclable material has to be taken to a landfill. If drivers notice the oil leaking out of the truck, they have call out co-workers to clean up whatever oil hit the road to standards set by the Department of Environmental Quality. That single jug or tin of oil causes delays in routes, added expense for haulers and eliminates the possibility of recycling anything it contaminated.

How do driver’s know when you’ve tried skirting the rules? Cameras.

Each truck is equipped with a live-feed camera (no still shots) and drivers can add a contamination fee to someone’s account the minute they spot a problem.

“Anyone who is paying the fee at this point has had the one-on-one with someone from our office, and we tried to get a commitment for them not to contaminate the blue bins,” Dittman said.

Moreover, the fees are only being assessed when someone tries to dispose of something that was never allowed in the blue bins to begin with, said John Sullivan, general manager of Loren’s Sanitation.

“There is a heightened awareness right now because of all the recycling changes and that’s why we’re fielding daily calls on the issue,” Sullivan said.