Recycling is not always easy – Is this carton recyclable? Do I have to wash this jar with soap? The challenge has increased in recent years as China – a major importer of recyclable materials – has become stricter with which materials they accept, and the level of contamination allowed.
Right now, China will accept loads of materials with a maximum 0.5 percent contamination. Contamination is, for example, recyclable items packed in plastic bags (plastic bags are NOT recyclable curbside), or wet items that have dampened and rotted cardboard in the same load.
By comparison, the City of Battle Creek currently faces a 30 percent contamination rate in some neighborhoods.
This has become a serious issue in city curbside recycling and, in March, Waste Management reached out to us with concerns about that contamination rate. The result is that the Holland facility that processes our recyclables started rejecting many truckloads from Battle Creek; WM has passed on that cost to the city, at roughly $1,650 per truckload.
WM found the highest contamination levels in loads collected from neighbors with Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday pickup service, and they began diverting those loads to the landfill to avoid the rejection and cost. They anticipated this would be temporary and, as part of a January 2019 amendment to our contract with management, they may divert contaminated loads without notice.
After that March discussion, we planned to start an aggressive educational and outreach campaign, so we could help neighbors return to recycling Monday through Wednesday. However, the COVID-19 pandemic struck days later.
The city has faced staff reductions, and in-person education opportunities are extremely limited. This has left the recycling-to-landfill diversion in place to this point. Our Sustainable BC Committee recently discussed this issue – you can view the meeting here, on the city's Facebook page – and we received feedback that we should share the diversion issue with the community as soon as possible.
Our environmental team has fully returned to work, and is working with other staff on education and outreach that is possible during the pandemic, to help everyone recycle again. They have taken recycling education to the Battle Creek Farmers Market, and appeared on the June episode of our AccessVision program, Keeping You Informed. You can watch that show on demand at http://accessvision.tv/file/18630.
We cannot continue diverting recycling to the landfill, and paying the accompanying fee – it is not environmentally nor financially friendly.
We have some work to do.
We hope to start focused education in the affected neighborhoods, and discuss additional options, like asking neighbors to opt into a recycling program to keep their carts; amend our garbage ordinance to allow cart audits by city staff, for on-site education opportunities; work with WM on a tagging program, leaving contaminated carts and tagging them with that reasoning; and more.
Our current WM contract ends next spring; we will being the process this fall to seek a new contract. We anticipate introducing an amendment to our garbage ordinance this August to improve our next contract. Ideas include the opt-in recycling program; hauler-provided trash carts; eliminating single-stream recycling to reduce contamination; and more.
In the meantime, please keep these tips in mind:
- Items like vacuums, clothes, diapers, toys, paint cans, dirty food containers, and plastic bags are not allowed in our curbside carts.
- Please make sure your items are clean and dry when they go into your city cart. Keep the lid closed to avoid rain/water getting inside.
- Items must be inside the container; drivers will leave behind a cardboard box placed next to your cart, because our WM recycling trucks pick up the carts with robotic arms.
- Visit battlecreekmi.gov/recycling for much more information.
We know this is frustrating news, especially for our devoted recyclers. Despite the COVID-19-related delays, please know we consider it a high priority to get the recycling program back on track.
If you are in an affected neighborhood, we encourage you to keep recycling, if possible, by dropping off your materials to Waste Management’s Springfield facility, at 4547 Wayne Road. There are additional drop-off opportunities at the Marshall Recycling Center, and C&C Landfill – visit battlecreekmi.gov/recycling and calhouncountyrecycling.com for more information. The county’s page includes an interactive map.
We appreciate everyone’s patience and attention to recycling – we believe in Battle Creek, and in recycling. You can share questions and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org, or 269-966-3355 ext. 1878.. We will continue to share updates as the recycling situation changes.