Trash talk: Here’s why your recycling efforts are going to waste

Contamination, non-recyclable items cause entire loads of recycling to be thrown out

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – We need to talk, Orange County. It’s about your recycling habits.

Due to residents placing contaminated or non-recyclable items in their recycling bins entire loads collected in Orange County end up in the landfill and it’s time we change that.

It’s hard. I know. You think you’re doing the right thing by putting plastic bags in the recycling bin at home because you want them to be recyclable but it just doesn’t work that way. Plastic bags must be taken to a local drop off location, like a Publix or other grocery stores.

[RELATED: Don’t toss that out: Here are common recyclable items]

“Plastic bags is our biggest culprit. Keep recycling. Keep it clean and simple,” Ocoee’s Public Works director Steve Krug told News 6.

Nearly 99% of recycling loads collected in Ocoee are thrown out due to contamination, Krug said.

And those pizza boxes with grease stains? Sorry, those need to go in the trash bin, too.

The numbers show some Orange County cities are doing a better job separating and cleaning their items than others. The interactive graphic below shows how much of a city’s recycling gets thrown out due to contamination.

How do we do better? Officials encourage people to use the “Think 5” strategy which focuses on the top five recyclable items: plastic, metal, glass containers, cardboard and paper.

Orange County, which has an average of 85% of its recyclables rejected, has fought hard to educate its residents on proper recycling.

Jamie Floer, a spokesperson for the county, said residents want to recycle correctly, but some tend to “wish-cycle” meaning they put the wrong items in their bins hoping they are recyclable.

To help education residents, Orange County launched a “Think 5” campaign in 2016, and in 2018 the county implemented its first “fleet on the street” campaign going into neighborhoods inspecting recycling carts and providing feedback to customers on how to recycle right.

Those programs are working, Floer said. Here’s the data showing the results.

Clean up your act: If it’s on the list of approved recyclable items the key is that they can’t be contaminated with food, liquid or other waste or it will be considered mix recycling.