Jefferson City officials fear a free glass recycling service could end up costing residents if contamination issues are not addressed.
Looking at a photo of a glass recycling bunker containing cardboard boxes, newspapers and plastic bags, Jefferson City Neighborhood Services Specialist Sheri Johnston shook her head Wednesday, saying, "You can't even see the glass."
Jefferson City contracts with Ripple Glass to provide a free glass recycling service to residents. However, Johnston said, Ripple Glass is seeing increased contamination in its bins as residents are placing items besides glass in the containers.
When items like cardboard and plastic bags are placed in the glass recycling bins, Ripple Glass workers must remove the contaminants before processing the glass.
If the contamination level does not improve, Johnston said, the hauling and processing costs may be passed on to city residents who use the bins.
If Ripple Glass receives a load of recyclables that is too contaminated to be processed, Johnston added, she worries the items will end up in the landfill.
When contamination occurs, items could become stuck in the machines and cause Ripple Glass to run less efficiently, Ripple Glass Regional Program Manager Lauren Henry said.
"We like to be as efficient and sustainable and do everything as economically great as possible," she said.
The company tries to recycle cardboard placed in the Ripple Glass containers, though, Henry added.
The recycling industry is in "upheaval" after China stopped accepting many recyclable materials from the United States because the items were too contaminated, Jefferson City Neighborhood Services Manager Jayme Abbott said.
"I don't want something to happen where a cost has to be passed on to the consumers or to the citizens who took advantage of it," she said. "So we need to clean up our act, literally. Clean up the recycling."
To deter people from placing cardboard and other non-glass items in the four Ripple Glass bins, city staff is considering modifying the bins so only glass bottles can go in them.
The purple Ripple Glass bins are located at 1228 E. McCarty Street in the Save-A-Lot parking lot, 1700 Southridge Drive at McKay Park, 2284 Hyde Park Road and 2730 W. Main Street
Johnston and Abbott said many residents who recycle may be "wishful recyclers" who want to recycle but do not understand the risk of contamination or the recycling process.
"I think people assume, 'Oh, I'll put this in with the glass. Cardboard is recyclable, and they'll figure out what to do with it,'" Johnston said. "That's not how recycling works."
That is why education is key right now.
Republic Services, which provides single-stream recycling to Jefferson City residents, has been promoting "Empty. Clean. Dry," encouraging residents to empty their recyclable items and wash and dry them before placing them in recycling.
City officials also are attempting to inform residents of other recycling services.
If the contamination issues continue, Henry said, Ripple Glass will work with Jefferson City to provide more public outreach and education to residents.
Republic Services' single-stream recycling accepts only aluminum, plastics and paper, Johnston said. Residents can take electronics to Midwest Recycling Center and recyclable yard waste to the city's yard waste facility, operated by All Seasons Lawn Care at 2417 Southridge Drive.
New World Recycling and Federal International Recycling and Waste Solutions also accept various recyclable items, including cardboard.
While Jefferson City previously offered free cardboard recycling, it moved the nine recycling containers to Hyde Park in June after New World Recycling terminated its contract with the city. It later sold the bins, Abbott said.
There isn't an immediate plan to bring the cardboard recycling bins back, Abbott and Johnston said, as there are too many unknowns in the recycling industry.
During a Jefferson City Budget Committee meeting last summer, the Jefferson City Planning and Protective Services Department requested $35,000 for Republic Services to provide pickup services for cardboard recycling containers — but this was not approved in the 2019 fiscal year budget.