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Advertisements, a website and -- if a person does wrong -- a reminder note of what can and cannot be recycled are coming soon to most Pulaski County recyclers.

The Regional Recycling and Waste Reduction District in Pulaski County is launching a recycling education program called "Do Recycling Right" to better educate most of the county's residents on what should and shouldn't be in their curbside carts or apartment complex recycling bins.

The program is the latest effort of district officials to address their mission's greatest scourge: contaminated recycling bins.

Contamination, or trash thrown in with recycling, has been a concern for a few years now at the district office on Spring Street in Little Rock, and it hasn't gotten better.

Taped on the window of the five-person office's meeting room is a brown plastic bag from Kroger with a sheet of paper affixed to it reading, "#1 offender."

The facility that processes recycling from Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood, Maumelle and unincorporated Pulaski County can't handle plastic bags because they get caught in the machinery, district Director Craig Douglass said.

Residents are told not to place them in their recycling carts, but many do anyway.

"I'm not interested yet, maybe next year, in increasing participation," Douglass said of the district's recycling programs.

He wants to decrease the amount of contamination, which currently averages about 36 percent of all recycling. That means that of 100 pounds of recycling, 36 pounds are either nonrecyclable materials or recyclable materials that have been ruined by food or other contaminants, according to George Wheatley, public sector services manager for Waste Management in Arkansas and other states.

The goal for 2019 is a contamination rate of 28 percent, Douglass said.

"Then we're making headway," he said.

The district will direct recycling contractor Waste Management to leave notes on the recycling carts of people who have recycled items that cannot be accepted and remind them not to dispose of the top five recycling nuisances: plastic bags, hoses or cords, foods and liquids, yard waste and clothing. The notes also will direct people to never place their recyclables in bags but rather place them loose in their carts.

Repeat offenders will get the same note, but it will say that their recycling was not picked up because it contained nuisance items. That will apply only to unincorporated Pulaski County customers.

Wheatley said recycling trucks in Little Rock, North Little Rock and Sherwood pick up recycling carts without the drivers needing to get out of the trucks. Drivers can see what is dumped in the truck using rearview mirrors.

In unincorporated Pulaski County, he said, the trucks are different, and drivers must empty each bin themselves, which makes it easier to spot contamination.

The company planned to track back to 2016 which homes were improperly recycling -- and did for a few weeks -- but scrapped the plan because of insufficient staff training and a decision to pivot toward educational outreach before punishing offending customers.

Local television station KTHV, Channel 11, has agreed to partner with the district to offer a recycling tip each Monday on its morning and 6 p.m. news broadcasts.

The district will begin a television ad campaign as well, airing exclusively on KTHV two 30-second commercials and two 15-second commercials for a total of 256 times. Viewers will be directed to MyDoRight.com, a one-page website from the district that details what people should always do when they recycle and what they should never do.

Programming with the station launches Monday.

The district also will mail all Pulaski County residents a postcard March 5 detailing the eight do's and eight don'ts listed on the website, and the stickers for recycling carts will debut in mid-March, Douglass said.

The education program will cost $150,000, Douglass said, with $143,000 coming from an unrestricted budget line item for a recycling incentive program that the district stopped administering. The district had struggled with participation in the incentive programs in the past.

The other $7,000 will come from next year's fiscal budget, if passed by the district's board, beginning July 1, he said.

Douglass emphasized that plastic bags and other items the recycling programs won't accept may technically be recyclable, but that doesn't mean they can be processed at the materials recovery facility, Recycle America, in Little Rock.

For instance, glass breaks and is sharp, posing a danger at the facility. Currently, residents of Little Rock, North Little Rock and Sherwood can recycle glass under a contract signed with Waste Management in 2012. But residents of Pulaski County's unincorporated area cannot, per a contract signed with Waste Management last year because of concerns about it at the facility.

Cords, hoses, ropes or wires may seem recyclable, but they get tangled in the machinery, Douglass said.

Automated machines went online once Waste Management and the district agreed in 2012 to do single-stream recycling, which means people don't have to separate their recyclable materials by type before throwing them in their carts. Now, the machines sort them.

Contamination was about 18 percent when the program started, but more people are recycling now. The participation rate in recycling has more than doubled since single-stream started -- to 75 percent or more -- but the machines can't handle all of the materials.

Contamination in recycling is a nationwide problem, Wheatley said.

"I can't think of many places that it's not a problem," he said.

Waste Management has for years advertised its "Recycle Often. Recycle Right." initiative to curb contamination, and it's been used by various municipalities and other Waste Management partners to varying effects, Wheatley said.

The company has found that its anti-contamination initiatives work best when they are concentrated in small areas, like a handful of neighborhoods, Wheatley said. The company would make an effort to educate residents in one area for a while and then move on to another area once things improved.

The company has used heat maps to determine which areas are most problematic. It did that for the Regional Recycling and Waste Reduction District.

Higher-income areas tend to have cleaner recycling carts than lower-income areas, Douglass said.

The district has discussed an educational outreach program for about two years now. In 2015, the district asked Waste Management to study the most problematic routes, and in 2016 it asked the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to survey county residents about their recycling habits and what they believed they could recycle.

In 2017, the district decided to put an education program on hold while then-director John Roberts retired and Douglass transitioned into the position.

Now, officials hope "Do Recycling Right" will make a difference.

"It's just impossible to say whether it will be tremendously successful or not, but we hope that it is," Wheatley said. "Everybody needs that."

Metro on 02/25/2018

Print Headline: Push afoot to get word out on better recycling

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