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Sep 28

11/01/2019 - Part 3: Contamination

Posted on September 28, 2020 at 4:08 PM by Mila Susnjar

We hope you were able to read and get some questions answered with the previous months' newsletter content.?For this third installment of additional recycling information in the ReWorks' newsletter, we'd like to focus on contamination.?Feel free to share this information with family and friends.

I keep hearing about contamination in recycling. I'm not sure what this really means.

Contamination as a general idea is when something gets into our recycling stream that should not be there.

Yard Waste

Orange and brown leaves against a blue skyOne example is yard waste. Recycling facilities are designed for separating recyclables such as:

  • Cardboard
  • Cartons
  • Metal food and beverage cans
  • Paper
  • Plastic bottles and jugs

These facilities do not have systems in place to separate leaves. Additionally, the leaves contaminate other recyclables.

Leaves need to be taken to an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered compost facility, mulched into your lawn, collected through community yard waste programs or composted through back yard composting. So, yes while leaves are biodegradable and help make great compost, they should not be placed in recycling. For more information, check out our Organics page.


Another example is sorting.

The recycling facility (Material Recovery Facility, also known as a 'MRF') where all the collected recyclables from home recycling carts and community recycling drop-off centers has equipment that helps sort material.

Scrap Metal

One example that can cause problems is scrap metal. Often, it seems confusing. Aluminum and steel cans can be brought to a scrap yard, but you can't bring scrap metal to a MRF! However, if you understand the differences between the two facilities, it does make sense.

Scrap metal yards have different types of equipment that allows them to handle all sorts of sizes and types of metals. MRFs on the other hand, have conveyor belts that were designed to transport the leftover packaging from consumer items such as:

  • Cardboard
  • Cartons
  • Food and beverage cans
  • Paper
  • Plastic bottles and jugs

So the only type of metal for MRFs are aluminum beverage cans and metal food cans. All other metal should go to a scrap metal yard. Look in your area for local scrap metal recyclers.

Plastic Bags & Film Plastic

Crinkled film plasticLastly, plastic bags and film plastic. If plastic bags get into a recycling cart, once they are at the recycling facility, they cause problems. In general, they get caught up in equipment. So, when the people that work at the recycling facility see plastic bags, they are trained to pick them out.

Keeping plastic bags out of recycling carts is an easy way to reduce this type of contamination. It is best to recycle bags and film plastic at local grocery stores and larger discount stores. Materials are more easily sorted when there are no unexpected, non-recyclable items in the recycling stream.

Do Not Bag Cart Recyclables

Also, do not bag your recyclables in your cart. You can carry your items to your recycling cart in a bag, but then simply empty out the bag into the recycling cart. At this point, you can either re-use the bag or it should be placed in your trash if it is either no longer usable or too dirty to bring to a store plastic bag recycle site.

What Do We Mean by Film Plastic?

Plastic that wraps toilet paper rolls or paper towel rolls. Often, plastic water bottles are wrapped in plastic as well. As long as there is no food, film plastic can be included with your plastic bags at store collections.

Things to Keep in Mind

Lastly, you might hear different messages, but if we all focus on what everyone agrees upon for what to place into our recycling carts at home and at community recycling drop-off centers then we will truly help the system to be efficient.

So, keep in mind that we should only place the following items into our recycling at home or at community recycling drop-off centers.

  • Cardboard, flattened
  • Cartons
  • Metal beverage and food cans
  • Paper (magazines, junk mail, sheets of paper, pasta/cookie/cracker boxes)
    • No shredded paper
  • Plastic bottles and jugs (rinsed, empty, and no caps)

Keeping to this list will help avoid sorting issues and therefore limit contamination.