Dear Recyclebank: I don’t contaminate my recycling, but I’m pretty sure my neighbor does. Does that mean all of my recycling efforts are going to waste? –Heather T.
Dear Heather: As we covered in last week’s column on how clean your recyclables need to be, recycling facilities have a number of safeguards in place to mitigate contamination. Some trash can be sorted out, and some (though not all) dirty materials can be cleaned. However, all of this takes time and money, and lower-quality batches net a lot less money on the resale market, which can lead to unprofitability for your recycling program. Those costs can get passed on to consumers through rate increases, so it’s in your neighbor’s interest as much as yours to follow the rules.
Depending on how well you know your neighbor, you may be able to strike up a conversation and drop some friendly reminders about what does and doesn’t go in the bin. It’s possible they don’t even realize they’re doing anything wrong. It may even be the case that passersby are dumping their own trash into your neighbor’s bin, something they can deal with by keeping their bin out only on collection day.
If you don’t know your neighbor very well or you don’t feel comfortable confronting them directly, you might want to see if your neighborhood association can send out reminders about best recycling practices. As a last resort — and if you have proof that your neighbor is breaking the rules — you may consider checking to see if your city, like most, has a process for reporting recycling violations. A non-collection notice or fine might be a rude awakening, but it could help steer them in the right direction.
Meanwhile, keep up your own good recycling habits aren’t going to waste! Right now, you’re recycling is an important part of the solution: Though your neighbor may bring down the value of your neighborhood’s recycling, your recycling efforts are counteracting that.