Increased Recycling Rates Are Here To Stay

By Heather van Blokland
Published: Monday, September 16, 2019 - 6:05am

A worker pulls contaminants off the line.
Bridget Dowd/KJZZ
A worker pulls contaminants off the line.

Republic Services has begun rejecting collected recyclables it now classifies as contaminated. In some cases, the items can get processed, but for a higher price. Now, Camden County, New Jersey — the birthplace of U.S. recycling — has filed suit against the company.

Contamination occurs because recycling is collected in a single stream, meaning paper and plastics all go in the same bin. Items with food residue or wrapping on them are considered contaminated. In some cases, items can still be recycled but it costs more to clean them up enough to fit the cleanliness standard required by China to be processable. 

“Changing the way that we recycle, changing the way that we service those customers, changing how we educate on what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable — some of that conversation is about increases in rates," said Pete Keller, vice president of recycling and sustainability at Republic Services.

The lawsuit was filed in late August against ReCommunity, a subsidiary of Republic Services. The suit also requested a temporary injunction and reimbursement for recycling and attorneys fees.

“And ultimately have discussions about how to make these programs more durable, more predictable, to make sure that when cities or states or counties have comprehensive plans around recycling programs and sustainability programs, that they are actually going to be sustainable,” Keller said.

Late last month, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation that encourages municipalities to switch from single-stream to dual-stream recycling programs. 

In 2017, Republic acquired ReCommunity, the largest independent recycling processor in the U.S. That purchase included 26 recycling centers in 14 states. 

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