Cole County residents are recycling more products than ever, but local entities are striving to improve the quantity and quality of the county's recycling efforts.
More than 66 percent of Cole County respondents said they recycle most times, while nearly 26 percent recycle some times, according to an April 2018 recycling survey conducted by Kansas City-based ETC Institute.
The survey was commissioned by the Mid-Missouri Solid Waste Management District. Nearly 1,150 residents in Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Cole, Cooper, Howard, Moniteau and Osage counties took the survey; 17 percent of the survey takers were from Cole County.
More than 61 percent of all survey takers said they recycle most times, while nearly 23 percent said they recycle some times.
The most common items respondents recycle include newspapers, bottles, cans and magazines. Respondents also said they regularly donate clothes and reused items to cut down on waste.
Recycling appears to be a growing trend in Cole County, based on the survey. More than 45 percent of Cole County respondents said they recycle more frequently than they did five years ago.
Cole County residents have access to drop-off recycling facilities like Federal International Recycling and Waste Solutions and New World Recycling, a household hazardous waste facility and glass recycling provided by Ripple Glass in Jefferson City. Midwest Recycling Center, in Jefferson City, also accepts electronic recycling.
A majority of Cole County respondents said they are recycling more due to the availability of curbside recycling. Jefferson City began offering single-stream recycling in 2009 through Republic Services, while Wardsville contracted with Republic Services a few years ago to offer single-stream recycling.
The convenience of single-stream recycling encourages residents to recycle, Cole County Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher said.
"I personally would not be recycling near as much if Wardsville did not have the recycle bins," he said. "I fill it every two weeks when before, most of it went into the regular trash bin."
There is always room for improvement, though, and more education about recycling is the top improvement needed for Cole County, said Hoelscher, Jefferson City Neighborhood Services Specialist Sheri Johnston and MMSWMD District Manager Lelande Rehard.
Recycling is more convenient for some Cole County residents due to single-stream recycling, but the service also shines a light on residents' confusion.
More than 57 percent of Cole County respondents said they have placed items in their curbside recycling containers that they were unsure would be accepted, according to the survey. Only 28 percent of the total survey respondents said they have done this, the survey notes.
It is normal for communities with single-stream recycling services to have a high contamination rate, Rehard said.
By encouraging residents to address contamination before placing it in the curbside bins, Johnston said, the materials will most likely be cleaner and more marketable.
"In the '90s and early 2000s, (the recycling industry) really pushed, 'Don't question it; just recycle, recycle, recycle. Focus on getting as much material in there as possible,'" Rehard said. "At the time, it was just to get participation and make it as easy as possible to participate. Now, they're really starting to pivot on that and turning toward how to recycle well. In many places, participation is getting a lot higher, so the cheapest way to get that clean material is right at the source."
In the report, the MMSWMD encourages Cole County, Jefferson City and Republic Services to initiate an anti-contamination campaign.
Contamination is a large issue in the recycling industry — China stopped accepting many recyclable materials from the United States earlier this year because the materials were too contaminated.
Republic Services launched its new slogan "Empty. Clean. Dry" in the summer to educate customers on contamination and possibly decrease the number of items that are contaminated. The city also plans to mail pamphlets and magnets to residents to remind them of what is considered acceptable single-stream recyclable materials and locations they can take recyclable items, Johnston said.
"If you only put in the recycling bin what you absolutely know belongs there, then we can keep the program going and keep our recycling marketable," Johnston said.
When non-recyclable items are placed in the recycling bins, it takes several hours to separate the materials, Monte Krehbiel, Republic Services division sales manager, said in June. Contamination also extends to leaving those non-recyclable items on or inside recyclable materials.
If non-recyclable residue, like juice or food, is left inside or on recyclable items, the materials are sent to the landfill because the leftover residue has contaminated the items.
"People want to divert materials from the landfill, and contamination is causing these materials to go into the landfill," Krehbiel said previously. "It's not getting to the end result that they want."
The top reasons respondents said they recycle were to prevent pollution, to conserve landfill space and to conserve natural resources.
Education goes beyond discussing contamination; it also includes educating residents on services already available locally. For example, 44 percent of Cole County residents said they were not familiar with household hazardous waste collection services, according to the survey. More than 32 percent said they were either very dissatisfied or dissatisfied with household hazardous waste collection services availability.
By appointment only, residents can take recyclable materials — including bleach, brake fluid, acids and gasoline, among other items — to the Cole County Household Hazardous Waste Facility at 2310 Hyde Park Road. The facility is currently closed but will reopen in spring 2019, according to the city's website.
Johnston said she is unsure how the city will increase awareness of the facility.
Education is one step toward changing attitudes and behaviors toward recycling, Rehard said.
"Changing behaviors for a busy household with two jobs and kids and things going on, it's not easy," he said. "It sounds easy for us in the industry because we do it. But I can understand there are a lot of other barriers out there, and it's not that people are malicious and don't want to recycle. That's pretty rare, but there are a few people like that. Most people don't have enough time to learn it and do it so to make it a habit and lifestyle."
While Rehard said he was pleased with the Cole County survey results, he is more interested in the results of MMSWMD's next survey, which it may conduct in five years. That future survey will show the results of Cole County's — as well as other counties' — efforts to improve recycling behaviors, he said.