The city of Peoria Solid Waste Division provides collection services to more than 60,000 households, all of which are in possession of two bins — a dark brown one for recyclables and a light brown one for trash intended for the landfill.
Apparently some Peoria residents are using the different bins incorrectly.
In a recent Peoria inspection effort, confusion regarding the proper receptacle for recycling was identified as a possible cause of contamination, which is between 22% and 23% in Peoria.
To curb contamination, which not only brings down revenue but also hurts the environment, the city will begin a pilot program in January to change the dark brown lids to blue lids in the hopes that residents use the proper bin for recyclables.
“Over the past 13 years, the recycling industry has used the color blue as its primary color to denote the proper bin to help customers properly dispose of their recyclables. As a result, many waste haulers — whether private or public — have transitioned to either all-blue containers, or containers with blue lids. Doing so has helped end-users reduce the potential for contamination,” according to a city document.
Peoria is partnering with the Recycle Partnership to secure a $35,800 grant to measure and determine whether contamination decreases by replacing some of the city’s dark-brown recycling bin lids with new, all-blue lids. The city is required to match that amount but the total value of the grant is $174,192, with the Recycle Partnership providing personnel to help with the program’s audits, educational material and consulting. The program also will seek to learn if the lids are aesthetically tolerable to residents.
Public Words Director Kevin Burke said the industry standard for recycling is blue, and Peoria has many transplants who come from places where blue was the color and now it’s different.
“We have tried a variety of labels on the recycle can, but the Arizona sun just beats the heck out of those to a point where they fade and so the text or the stamp is no longer visible, but the integrity of the barrel is still good, meaning it’s not time to replace it,” he said. “So those issues factor into trying a blue lid. And remember, this is an experiment. It’s possible we see no change in contamination and that tells us that this wasn’t an issue of bin color or labels.”
The pilot program will essentially only cover two of the city’s recycle routes and is slated to run January-June 2021.
The city’s higher recycling contamination rate means about 80% of the items residents put in their recycle bin are able to be recycled, or not contaminated.
Mr. Burke said the goal is to reduce contamination.
The city’s recycling program launched in 2007.
However many municipalities have suspended or terminated their recycling service during the past few years because China banned the import of recyclable waste that does not reach the threshold of 99.5% pure.
As a result, the market significantly dropped from recyclable materials paying out more than $70 a ton in 2017, to about $25 a ton last quarter.
“So we are on a mission to make recycling resilient in these difficult times and curb contamination,” Mr. Burke said.
During the past 12 months, the city has invested about $1 million in new technology, launched a new website about recycling, created a new character and video to teach about recycling right, installed new recycling truck wraps to promote recycling and launched enhanced inspections and literature.
“These are all ways we are trying to improve our resiliency,” Mr. Burke said.
The new technology, which includes better optical scanners and conveyor hardware, has allowed for 32% more material from the recycled material stream to be pulled. In other words, under the same contamination level, the upgrades enable the machine to pull more of the recycled material from the non-recycled material.
“The reason it is called contamination is because the good recycled material is thrown-out due to bad material contaminating the flow and being unable to sort the two. This still occurs, but this technology is helping us sort the good stuff from the bad stuff. The old saying, ‘Garbage in, garbage out,’ literally applies in this situation,” Mr. Burke said. “If we can start with less contamination, we get more products that can be recycled in the end. Remember, of the products China is still taking, they want 99.5% pure. That requires good sorting.”
Because of the China ban, prices for recycled commodities dropped about 60% from peak to valley, but the market has slowly adjusted, whether it’s finding other foreign markets or U.S. companies to take and process recycled paper on U.S. soil.
Additionally, the recycling industry has seen a rebound because of the pandemic, which is creating more demand for fiber/paper and accelerated a boom in fiber pricing, Mr. Burke said.
“What happened when COVID hit? Places that recycled paper shut down. This includes schools, businesses and restaurant/retail, which use lots of cardboard. So supply dropped. At the same time, demand increased — remember, the run on toilet paper? Further, a huge surge in online ordering. How do those products get delivered? Cardboard. Bingo! Big demand, less supply, the price skyrocketed,” he said. “Mixed paper went from a negative in some markets — meaning you had to pay people to take it — to worth over $100 per ton. Along with other commodity changes, this has changed the recycling economy in the last six months.”