Contamination Reduces Quality of Recyclable Materials in Otter Tail County

Posted On: October 18, 2018
Posted By: Solid Waste,

The Otter Tail County Recycling Facility reports that employees frequently find garbage and contamination in the recycling taken into the facility from around the county.

The staff at the recycling center recently took a closer look at the contamination pulled from the recycling stream. They determined that on that day approximately 8% of the recycling was made up of non-recyclable items or garbage. Cedar Walters, Public Information and Education Officer for Solid Waste, created a ‘top five contaminants’ list that will be used to help educate county residents about ways to avoid contaminating their recycling.

The most common ‘NO’ items found in the recycling are:

  1. Bags and other film plastics, including bagged recyclables
  2. Bulky items such as flower pots, wood, or buckets
  3. Cartons (from milk, juice, broth)
  4. Styrofoam
  5. Assorted ‘yucky’ items such as containers of food or liquid, diapers, used paper plates, etc.

While this list is not comprehensive, it does represent a large part of the contamination recycling sorters see every day. However, it is not uncommon for them to encounter diapers, toys, chairs, clothing, fish guts, and soiled personal care products. One worker found a dead duck while sorting last week.

Cedar Walters reminds the public, “We want you to keep in mind that people are sorting your recycling – when you throw something gross or dangerous in your recycling, or try to recycle the wrong thing, our recycling sorters have to remove all of those items by hand.”

Examples of contamination in single sort recycling

Some items are clearly materials that someone thought they could recycle, such as large bags packed full of other plastic bags, or bagged recycling. Plastic bags should be reused or brought to a grocery store for recycling because they are not accepted at the recycling center. Recycling should be loose – bagged recyclables are sometimes treated like garbage simply because workers don’t have time to open all the bags. Clothing can be recycled, but it isn’t accepted at the recycling center either. It can be donated to a reuse store or dropped in one of the clothing drop boxes located around the county. However, some items are clearly not recyclable, such as used paper plates, diapers, and fast food packaging. Contamination can reduce the quality of the recyclables, making it harder to market the materials to buyers.

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