From the Forum – Private Garbage Collector: Mixing Recycling and Garbage?

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Private Garbage Collector: Mixing Recycling and Garbage?

“I’m originally from MI. I grew up separating plastic/metal from paper for recycling. After moving to DC a few years ago, I had to get used to the city’s single stream approach.

I recently moved to a new apartment in Petworth and the management company ( a large one in town) contracts with a private garbage collector. From my apartment I have a awesome view of the alley (fancy, i know). The building has several large yellow-topped recycling only bins and several black-topped trash bins. Every Sunday my girlfriend and I see the private garbage truck come in and dump the contents of both types of bins in to one truck.

Dismayed, I took a picture and forwarded it on to my management company. I got a response saying the trash collector’s “method” is to combine everything and sort out recycling from garbage at their facility. The collectors “assured” the management company that this was a “know industry practice”.

My question: does this sound right? Seems very strange to me. Are there any city regulations on this? Any suggestions as to other steps I could take for more info? I’d hate to be spending a lot of time to sort out recycling if it is all just getting trashed.”

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14 Comment

  • Ha, I assure you that i enjoy my job.

  • Since trash is usually in trash bags and recycling is usually is not contained, I think it would be pretty simple to sort it out later.

  • I saw a piece on tv that showed how comingled trash is processed at transfer stations and separated for recycling. It seems to be the standard procedure. They even had teams that would scour the landfill areas for recyclable materials.

  • There have been a number of studies over recent years analyzing the effectiveness of recycling programs. The conclusions have been that the most effective programs are the ones where the sorting is done downstream (at a sort facility) and not done by the individual household. The reasons are many, but one main one is that the average Joe does not properly sort. Therefore, what ends up in recycle bins always is a mixture of trash and recycle items. When the system does not account for a downstream sort, mixed waste ends up in the landfill (as no one is able to process the mix). When systems are set up that assume (and pay for) a downstream sort, recyclables are recycled and non-recyclables go to the landfill. Further studies show that “partial sorting” slows everything down. That is, the downsteam sorting gets clogged up when they have partially sorted material messing up their system. So at the end of the day, they studies have shown that having the consumer mix the garbage and paying for a downstream full sort is the most optimized system. All that said, DC is not doing a great job with respect to these studies. At best, we all partially sort.

    • Interesting, can you cite your research article?

    • I can assure you, there has been no conclusive data to this end. This is only the case where the locality has an abysmally low recycling program participation rate. If you are looking to facilities in California as an example, the towns that perform waste and recycling collection in this manner DO have educational programs for residents that encourage bringing clean recyclables to recycling drop-off centers.

  • As I was saying in response to the original forum post:

    A previous employer of mine did this. Not sure if it was a trash/recycling company they had contracted directly, or whether the building that the employer was leasing had made the arrangements with the trash/recycling company.

    In this case, the separated trash and recyclables were being put together into a compactor. Supposedly the compacted mix was then taken somewhere else, where the recyclables were separated from the trash.

    I didn’t doubt the basic premise of the story, but it sounded like a totally inefficient way of handling trash and recycling, especially since stuff like oil/grease from food waste can render otherwise-recyclable items (like all the PAPER that an office generates) unusable for recycling. I suspected there were kickbacks involved.

  • You may want to check with our SWEEP Office (Solid Waste Education and Enforcement Program). Give Russell Klein (Recycling Education Program Coordinator) a call at 645-7190 on or after Monday, Aug. 26. I know of no such system, and neither did anyone I talked to just now. The District uses single-stream recycling which separates all recycling materials… into plastic, paper, glass etc… at the Recycling Center, saving the resident from having to separate it themselves. As best I know, there are no instances in DC where recyling and trash should ever be placed in the same truck. In fact, we remain vigilant when it comes to making sure that it *doesn’t* happen. But… I may be wrong. Check in with Russell at the beginning of next week.

  • My Girlfriend did some research and found this:

    Page 12.

    “I saw an employee / trash company / janitor mixing recyclables and solid
    waste. What can I do?

    If you see an employee misusing the containers within your office, please let your office
    manager know. If you see your housekeeping staff or a truck driver mixing your separated
    recyclables with general waste, please call or write to your property management company.
    You may also report it, anonymously if you choose, to the DC Department of Public Works
    Office of Recycling at: 202-645-7191 [email protected]

    • When I first moved in to the apartment that I live now, my landlord told me the same thing. He said to put all the waste together and that the collection “service” separated it at “their facility”. Long story short, I didn’t believe him and if you saw the “service” that picked up the trash in a barely-running 1970s pick-up, you probably wouldn’t either. After many complaints and questions about this “service”, he fired them and got a new “service” (and raised our rent because “we cost him so much for being so particular”). New service was sending two separate trucks for a while and all the tenants were putting recyclables in one receptacle. Suddenly, it is a pick-up again and the guy says, “trust me, it doesn’t matter” when I ask how he recycles. This really upsets me not just because I care about the Earth, but because it seems like it is totally illegal. Landlord inferred that he would throw us out if we made any more noise about this and I hate to say that I feel like no one cares because we live in a pretty low-income neighborhood. Does anyone know if it is against the law to not recycle? Does anyone know if there are recycling facilities in DC where I can just take my own recycling to (DPW website doesn’t show me anything or maybe I am searching the wrong thing)?

  • Prince of Petworth:

    Although I can’t speak to your specific company, I can tell you that single-stream recycling is a common practice — and becoming more common every day.

    The material is taken to a materials recovery facility (MRF).

    High-tech innovations at MRFs help automate and streamline the sorting and separating of commingled recyclables, while workers oversee the process. Sorting recycled materials lessens the chance for contamination and better prepares the materials to be repurposed.

    With screens, optical scanners and conveyor belts, MRFs sort materials with precision. These facilities also employ magnets and electric currents, called “eddy currents,” that separate aluminum cans from the rest of the waste stream. Materials are then baled, shredded, crushed or compacted before being shipped to manufacturers to be turned into new products.

    Businesses pay for the materials (aluminum foundries, paper plants, fiberglass insulation factories and the like). Because the material you are throwing out has value — and the processors have a vested interest in unlocking that value and not sending it to the landfill — where they have to pay to dispose of the materials.

    Moldknowitall touched on it: recycling rates go up when the process is made easier for the consumer. This rate is at about a third of total material right now, and jurisdictions everywhere are striving to improve it.

    My employer, which represents private waste haulers, put this site together to explain the process:

    Craig Branson
    Communications Manager
    Environmental Industry Associations

  • I noticed our trash company doing this and decided to call the company themselves. When I did, the lady in the trash company office was upset and said that combining garbage/recycling is NOT standard practice and that they actually fire people over it.

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