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Recyclers launch campaign to reduce contamination

Contamination up by 30 percent in 2020

A Recology dump truck drops off a load of garbage at the John Smith Road Landfill.

San Benito County Integrated Waste Management (SBCIWM), in coordination with Recology San Benito County, began an outreach campaign in June 2020 to curb recycling contamination in the community. The next phase of the countywide Recycle Right campaign begins July 1 with the aim of improving the quality of the recyclables customers put in their recycling containers. 

This phase of the campaign involves spot checks of containers and a three-step tagging system to help correct mistakes.

“The latest study showed that the contamination in the recyclables coming from our county went up from 25 percent in 2019 to around 30 percent in 2020,” said Recology’s Waste Zero Manager Shana McCracken. “That is quite high and is headed in the wrong direction. The increased tagging measures provide real-time feedback to our customers as well as to our staff.”

The goal is to prevent the Monterey Regional Waste Management District, which runs the Materials Recovery Facility, from having to charge more to process the community’s recyclables.

Container tags identify contaminants in the various carts and urge customers to use the correct containers, while keeping items “empty, clean and dry.” Recology drivers leave a contamination tag when incorrectly sorted items are found—for example, plastic bags or a car battery placed in a recycling cart.

The tagging system will follow the following three steps:

1. Container contaminated for the first time: Driver will attach a contamination tag that indicates what the problem was. Container will be picked up as garbage by another driver.

2. Container contaminated for the second time: Driver will not pick up the container and will attach a contamination tag indicating it is the second incident. The tag will show what the problem was. The customer must remove contaminated items, then call Recology customer service to pick up the remedied cart or dumpster (as recycling) at no charge.

3. Container contaminated for the third time: Container will not be serviced, and a contamination fee will be applied to the customer’s account. The fee will continue to be assessed per incident until contamination is significantly reduced.

The contamination fee, per the SBCIWM’s Franchise Agreement with Recology, is set at $21.79 for residents and $92.65 for commercial customers.

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