After years of urging residents to recycle and establishing a successful recycling center, the City of London is now sending out a new message: "We need you to be smarter about recycling."

It’s called London Recycling 2.0.

And it’s a message born of necessity.

The market for recycling materials is in the dumps, so to speak, after China decided at the beginning of the year not to accept loads of waste paper, metals or plastic unless they are 99.5 percent pure.

That’s hard for the single-stream recycling centers in the U.S. to attain. Previously, all they had to do was bale the recycling materials, contaminates and all, and send them to China for sorting and processing.

Now, that job falls to recycling centers such as the London-Laurel County Regional Recycling Center, which has increased manpower costs significantly. To make matters worse, the glut of recycling materials has decreased revenue to the point that some municipalities have stopped recycling altogether.

London is not there yet, but it needs residents to be more careful about what they recycle, and not include contaminates such as food, clothing, dirty diapers and yard waste.

“We are losing all the way around,” said Steve Edge, London’s Public Works Director. “Misuse is the biggest thing. The more garbage they put in the more we have to pay to sort it. We’re losing a lot of recycled garbage because of contamination.”

Steep declines in revenue

The country’s major waste hauling and recycling companies—Waste Management, Republic Services and Waste Connections— have all reported steep declines in recycling revenue, some as much as 43 percent.

In London this year, the decline in recycling revenue may approach 50 percent.

The city recycled 3,957 tons in fiscal year 2016-2017 which produced revenue of $635,695. Projections for the current fiscal year which ends June 30 are for 3,136 tons, but revenue of only $257,135.

“As you can see, we are processing almost the same amount of tons, but getting about half the revenue,” Edge said.

The loss will have a significant impact on London’s budget.

“Long story short, and it’s a multitude of reasons, we’re going to be about $400,000 short,” Mayor Troy Rudder said. “It’s the economy for recycling across the world. I’ve talked to mayors who are baling it and throwing it away. They are going through the motions of recycling and then dumping it.”

London doesn’t want to go through the motions of recycling, which is why it’s asking residents to be more careful and thoughtful about what they throw in the recycling bins.

“What can we do as a group to break even?” the mayor said. “Across the nation 25 percent of all recycling has to be thrown away because of contamination from kitchen garbage.”

London Recycling 2.0

In the coming months, the city plans a major educational campaign to show residents what can be recycled correctly, and what needs to be thrown in the trash.

The campaign will include news articles, Facebook posts, videos, posters, door hangers and other materials to educate residents how to recycle smarter.

For example, most people don’t know that plastic grocery bags are not recyclable, and in fact, gum up the machinery in the recycling center. Egg cartons and foam restaurant take-out boxes are not acceptable either. Only plastic that has either a 1 or 2 on the bottom should be recycled. The rest is garbage.

“I’ll bet for six months I threw glass in the recycling can.” Mayor Rudder said. "I was under the impression we can make pea gravel out of it. I okayed the information that went out on it. But it wasn’t correct.”

The recycling center accepts glass as drop-off only. Glass in the curbside cans is a danger to employees and work-release inmates who have to sort them.

Councilman Judd Weaver, who leads the street and sanitation committee, said education now is the number one priority.

“I was throwing stuff away that is not recyclable too,” he said. “If we educate people and give them a little better understanding about the recycling process, we will all be better off.”

Weaver said in the current economic conditions, the best thing for residents to remember is, “When in doubt, throw it out.”

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