Contamination in recycling

There are many residents who are learning how to shift their focus from being a consumer to a resident who is a caretaker of our local environment. This can be a challenge but it is an important one that all of us need to revisit. Learning where to dispose of items that we no longer want or need is part of this challenge.

This month, I am writing about what contamination is and how many of us contribute to this problem in our recycling. Each spring, we do have some in our curbside recycling as well as our community dropsites which we do our best at the Environmental office to take care of it as it arises. Contamination has been very high this spring.

Contamination in recycling is when we place items into recycling that are not supposed to go into recycling. Recycling is all about recycling most kinds of paper (shredded paper and books are not allowed in drop sites or carts), cardboard and empty, clean food containers.

In particular, we have seen a large uptick of oil filters and used oil going into curbside and community dropsite containers as well as yard waste, carpeting, Styrofoam and broken furniture.

Since 2020, the Recycling Education Committee of Minnesota has been following companies throughout Minnesota who pick up recycling to see what the top 10 items are that end up in recycling that should not be in recycling. The survey was repeated in 2023 and unfortunately, for the most, part the list remains the same as 2020.

Please residents of Lyon County, do not place these items into recycling: Plastic bags (they should go back to the store); bagged recycling (we do not know if it is trash or recyclables); batteries (these should come to the Household Hazardous Waste Facility for free); tanglers (hoses, cords, etc) and Styrofoam (tanglers are trash and Styrofoam can be recycled but must be brought to the recycling office for free or thrown away); large plastic items such as laundry baskets, totes, tote lids, buckets, lawn furniture and toys (these items are trash only); diapers (yes, I said it); needles and sharps (we have a free program for these items too-call us for details); pressurized cylinders (propane tanks, helium tanks); food waste; large scrap metal (pipes, poles, gutters, auto parts) and ceramics, foil pouches or food service ware (all trash).

So, if you are counting, I did list more than 10 because some of the items tied with each other as problems in recycling.

Unfortunately, when these items get into recycling without our knowledge, they are hauled with the rest of everyone’s recycling to Redwood Falls to the transfer station. In particular, when oily or greasy items are left in recycling, the oil spills all over Lyon County recycling but also all over other counties recycling. Oil covered recyclables has to be thrown away. When items are thrown away at the transfer station in Redwood Falls, it is hauled back to the landfill in Lyon County.

We have had to remove one community recycling drop site (temporarily) this spring and we have started using our “Oops” tags on curbside carts. If your recycling was not picked up and has an “Oops” card hanging on your cart, it is because you have placed items in your cart that are not recyclable. It is unfortunate that we have to go back to using the Oops tags but in order to clean up our recycling, it is necessary. Contamination in recycling in Lyon County was under 10 percent until this spring. Contamination in recycling costs the program money.

On the flip side of those who need to be reminded on how to recycle, we have many, many recyclers in our county who are doing a fabulous job. Thank you for all of your hard work.

In order to celebrate those who are recycling correctly, we will also start to use a “Thank you” tag soon. You won’t be able to miss it. We hope to thank those who have taken the time to understand what can and what cannot be placed into recycling.

If residents have extra trash, or have items that they do not know what to do with for disposal, please visit the Lyon County, Minnesota website at www.lyonco.org for more information. If you cannot find the answer online, then please call us at (507) 532-8210 for assistance.


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