The year was 1986. Mom or dad would pack the children into the waaaay back of a massive station wagon and head over to a local municipal building where, at the far end of the parking lot, there was a gated bank of collection dumpsters or colored containers. The family would pile out of the great steel behemoth and tote their bags and boxes of separated cardboard, glass and aluminum cans over to the appropriate can, gleefully flinging their materials into the collection receptacles with a thud, plink, or the ever exciting smash. Some days there would be a stop at a Dairy Queen or 7-11 on the way home for an ice cream or Slurpee.

And then in 1987, a nice fellow from the sanitation department dropped off a few different colored bins and and instruction sheet. Curbside recycling pickup had come to your community. How about that! In fact, in 1987, curbside recycling reached over 1000 communities in the US. We were on our way to a greener country. We were peeling the labels off of little glass bottles of Tab, rinsing the inside and separating the cap. Recycling was here in the USA and it was working! We were all going to be okay.

About ten years later, the same fellow from the sanitation department, with a little more gray in his beard, visited the home, collected his colored bins and replaced them with a bigger bin, and of course, left an instruction sheet. Single stream recycling had arrived in your hometown. All of those things you separated out before–no need to separate them. Just toss ’em all in the bin. The folks at the recycling center will sort it out from there.

And this was the moment when we broke recycling in the US. There is no one to blame. But, over time, there developed an assumption, that “the folks at the recycling center” would or should sort out more than just single stream items. Americans acknowledged the convenience of single stream recycling by demanding more convenience. In just a few short years, many people reverted in their habits–no longer removing labels from bottles, leaving foodstuff contents in jars and pizza boxes, and even sending recycling to the curb in garbage bags.

What Happens to “Recycling” that Cannot be Recycled?

Well, a waste services professional would say that the greasy pizza boxes, dirty spaghetti sauce jars with the lids still screwed on and anything snuggly tied up in a plastic garbage bag is, well, NOT by definition, “recycling”. In which case, a better question would be: What happens when people put a bunch of non-recyclable material in with their recycling?

That’s What We Call Contamination

What happens to contaminated recycling? Well, for one thing, it goes to a landfill or incinerator like other trash. And, in many cases, certainly in the corporate and industrial waste space, the generator of the waste is charged a contamination fee for inclusion of contaminated waste in their recycling stream. What we have learned is that, even though there is no one to blame, so to speak, for our challenges related to recycling, that does not mean that no one will be held responsible.

What Can Your Business Do?

Sometimes the best solution is the most simple. Reach out to ASI Waste so we can help to evaluate your waste stream, identify opportunities for improvement and provide you with the materials and containers to help your facility meet the goal of zero contamination. No contamination means no fees. Let our team help your team expand your green footprint save money, and if it’s nice out, maybe we’ll all stop for ice cream.