In December, Recycle Right Morgantown wrapped up its four-month long recycling bin checking program. Under this program, the City of Morgantown Recycling Manager led a group of volunteers through different parts of South Park, Greenmont and Suncrest to check recycling bins for contamination. This effort went on for three to five weeks in each neighborhood.

We collected data on the number of bins that had contamination (% contamination) and the type of contamination, aka “Oops”. If contamination was found, volunteers would place an Oops tag on the bin, indicating what type of contamination was found. We also did an audit of all recycling that was collected for a given program area at the Mountaineer Transfer Station (MTS) at the beginning (pre) and end (post) of bin checking in each area.

All trash and recycling is dropped off by haulers at MTS. Then the trash is transported to the Short Creek Landfill near Wheeling, and recycling is sent to a Materials Recovery Facility in Connellsville, Pennsylvania.

For each audit, the recycling driver would collect recyclables only from the area selected to be checked for contamination in recycling bins, and transport the recyclables to MTS. The recycling was dumped in a clean area that the Recycling Manager along with MTS staff would then spread out. Once that was complete, a 1×1 meter square was laid over ten different areas on the pile of collected recycling to estimate coverage of contamination. In all the areas, there was an average 3.5% downward trend in contamination coverage in the post audit that is associated with a 9% average reduction in the number of contaminated bins identified each week in the program areas.

Images: Recycling from Greenmont area, close up of square over recycling, audit form.

The biggest Oops found in recycling bins was Packaging. Any type of plastic that was flexible packaging such as air bubbles, wrapping from a case of water, produce bags, bread bags, etc., was considered packaging. Plastic bags and to-go containers were runner ups to the #1 common Oops found in bins.

Knowing which plastic is recyclable is tricky for several reasons. First, acceptable plastic varies by municipality and market conditions. Second, manufacturers greenwash plastic products by putting a recycling label on products when it isn’t widely recyclable (think of amazon plastic mailers). Third, size and shape matter in addition to the number on a product. Flexible plastic is NOT accepted in green recycling bins. Flexible packaging that can stretch with thumb pressure (i.e., plastic bags, produce bags) can be recycled at major store chains. To keep the bad out of recycling bins, keep it simple by referring to our recycling guide for the ins and outs of what is accepted in the green bins.

A 9% reduction in bins with contamination is a positive step to reducing trash in recycling bins, and increasing the likelihood of recycled materials to be turned into new products. We want to continue this positive change and help our community to Recycle Right.

Currently, we are evaluating the best way to continue this program. If you have any comments about the program or would like to volunteer to be a bin checker send us a message here. Also, refer to our website for resources about where to recycle items not accepted at the curb and weekly tips on how to Reduce Right, Reuse Right, and Recycle Right.