Single Stream Recycling and "Contamination" Management

2 Replies

Single Stream Recycling and "Contamination" Management

Posted by Timothy J. Banks on Nov 5, 2018 4:11 pm

Hello all,

Here in Reno we have Single Stream recycling.  With this form of recycling, there is a very narrow margin of what is considered "contamination."  For example if there is any liquid found in containers at all, the entire bag is considered "contaminated" and is not recycled.  As you may imagine, the student union (along with Residence Halls) has some of the the highest amounts of "contamination" and much of our recycling is converted to trash.  I wondered if anyone else has noted this as an issue and if there are any strategies you might suggest, particularly given that we have little control of what our public does when they place items into our recycling containers.  Any advice/ideas/resources would be greatly appreciated.    
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Re: Single Stream Recycling and "Contamination" Management

Posted by Tamene Abebe on Nov 8, 2018 11:48 am

Hi Timothy,
You brought up a topic that is critical as we move into the future and see increasing expectations to become environmentally friendly.  I see this as a big topic and concern for our students here at CSU.  I wish I have an easy answer...I don't; except to say that contamination in recycling is a major problem and we need to find a better way to recycle if our goal is to minimize the amount of trash diverted to landfills.  I have a few suggestions:
All trash haulers will have an acceptable level of contamination.  It is impossible have a 100% compliant collection as you know.  Discuss this with your trash haulers or vendors at your campus.  Find out the acceptable level of contamination.  Our trash haulers here at CSU only allow 2-3% contamination.  The haulers will open each bag, visually inspect the contents, and remove contaminants if they see any.  They will then divert to a landfill if they find containers or bags that exceed the maximum amount of contaminants.  Again, all of this process will require additional time and money.
Find out your current contamination level by conducting a trash/recycle audit.  This will require finding a location and staff to document the findings and you might want to include your food safety/environmental health department to find out if this will be allowed.
Know that there is no easy solution and I will add that EDUCATION is the best option to change the recycling culture specific to your area.
Clearly defined visible signage on collection bins possibly with pictures of recyclable or compostable items sold in your union will go a long way to help.

We are currently investigating the possibility of adding composting in the dining areas (we already have back of the house composting that is working well) and are worried about liquids and soda. There are many ideas out there including the installation of a liquid collection location near the compost bins to cut down on the contamination of compostable items.

Hope this helps.


Re: Single Stream Recycling and "Contamination" Management

Posted by Timothy J. Banks on Nov 26, 2018 3:09 pm

Hi Tamene

I am sorry for the delay in my response, but I really wanted to say thank you.  It does confirm that this situation is indeed a challenge and not simply a matter of something I am missing.  I appreciate your recommendation regarding the audit.  I will be meeting with our campus Facilities group and our Associated Students representatives to work on improvement, but again what you shared lets me know we will really need to dig in, in order to make a difference.  Thank you again!