Recycler shelves trash-track plan

Will put educational campaign first instead of punishment, company says

Waste Management has suspended its initiative to track which homes are adding trash to recycling loads because of insufficient staff training and a decision to pivot toward educational outreach before punishing people who contaminate the loads, a company spokesman said this week.

In the next 60 days, Waste Management and the Regional Recycling and Waste Reduction District will start a three-month educational campaign that includes sending out mailers and placing advertisements on television and radio informing people of what they can and cannot place in a Waste Management recycling bin.

"We decided, along with Waste Management, that we really probably jumped the gun with that, with monitoring before we had any educational materials out there," district Deputy Director Carol Bevis said.

Waste Management has about 90,000 customers in Little Rock, North Little Rock and Sherwood for curbside recycling. It provides the service through a seven-year contract with the cities that will expire in 2019.

The curbside recycling program has had issues in the past year with contamination, in which people place trash into recycling bins. Earlier this year, officials said the contamination rate was as high as 40 percent, meaning recycling loads that were up to 40 percent trash were being dumped into a landfill instead of being recycled because the trash had tainted the recycling.

Items such as food or liquids can make recyclable items nonrecyclable. Some items can be filtered out at the materials recovery facility where recycling is sorted and baled.

Recycling carts already have charts on them that indicate what can be recycled. Paper, plastic, glass and metal are generally acceptable, although plastic bags are not allowed, and recycling can't be bagged in a plastic garbage sack, either. Paper and aluminum cannot have food residue on them, and aerosol cans must be empty.

Additionally, propane tanks made of metal are not accepted because of flammable residue on the tanks, and complex metal objects such as guns and chainsaws are not allowed because the machinery at the materials recovery facility can't break them down.

George Wheatley, the company's regional public sector services manager, said people should generally trash anything they aren't sure is recyclable.

"It probably is going to be a contaminant instead of a recyclable," he said.

Officials said earlier this year that they wanted to track households that contributed contamination and then revoke their recycling abilities after a certain number of violations.

Waste Management installed the technology required to photograph the inside of recycling carts but did not anticipate needing to train staff on how to operate the software, Bevis said.

The monitoring program first went into effect June 6 but lasted only a couple of weeks before it was pulled, she said.

Now, the district and Waste Management will focus on public outreach and education about proper recycling.

"We feel like that's what we should have done first," Bevis said. "We feel like we need to give everyone the chance to do it right, and then we'll start monitoring."

Metro on 09/15/2016

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