Show your blue cart some love

By: Keri Greenwalt and Susanne Harm

Do you ever wonder what happens to all the stuff you put into your blue recycling cart after it’s picked up at the curb? With global markets and recycling technology quickly evolving, it can be difficult to keep track, but recycling has many benefits. Let’s toss out the myths and shed some light on recycling, so you can feel good about showing your blue cart some love today and every day.

MYTH: Everything can be thrown into the trash cart; the person collecting the trash will pull out the recyclable items and divert them properly.

FACT: No one sorts through collected trash. Items you toss into the trash cart go directly to the landfill. Glass bottles are one of the most easily recyclable items, but if they are tossed in the trash instead, they can take up to one million years to decompose in a landfill! Do your part for the environment and minimize materials being sent to the landfill by making sure unwanted items are discarded properly. Think, ‘can the item be reused, repurposed, donated, recycled or composted instead?’ and only trash items when there is no other solution. Our helpful sorting guide can help you figure out what goes where. If you are still confused about a specific item our ‘What Do I Do With’ widget can help.

MYTH: The material in the blue recycling cart does not actually get recycled. 

FACT: After ARR collects the contents of your blue cart, the material is delivered to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF), where it is sorted for recycling. Only material that is not recyclable and was incorrectly placed into the blue cart will be sent to the landfill.  Watch this video to find out more about how the process works at Balcones Resources, one of the two MRFs the City utilizes.

On occasion, when an Austin Resource Recovery recycling truck needs to be serviced or repaired, a different type of vehicle (trash or composting truck, for example) will temporarily be used to complete the recycling collection. Rest assured, the truck will contain only recycling and the contents of your blue cart will be delivered to the MRF to be processed for recycling as usual, regardless of which vehicle picked it up.

MYTH: The City is going to discontinue or limit its recycling program because of what is happening in China.

FACT: China’s program to stop importing recyclables, “Operation Green Fence,” was formally implemented beginning in 2013 because the materials received such as plastics, scrap metal, paper and cardboard contained too much food, trash and other contaminants. Producers in China were spending money to sort, clean and ultimately landfill a lot of waste that had been mixed in with the recyclable materials. At the same time, the Chinese government was promising to restrict many of the country’s negative environmental practices. Consequently, China’s decision had long been anticipated by many recycling industry experts—especially here in Austin.

Austin Resource Recovery department officials met with our two contracted MRFs, (Balcones Resources and Texas Disposal Systems (TDS), several times to gain insight on the potential impact the current recycling market conditions could have on the City of Austin. Both MRFs have continued strong, positive relationships with their respective contractors and buyers of recyclable material; and both have created situations and conditions which have isolated the City of Austin from extreme risk and wild market swings. They continue to sell 100 percent of all recyclables coming from City of Austin residents and our collection program. Additionally, both have state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, which continue to focus on quality, to add more value to materials being sold on the market. Both MRFs are committed to continue processing recyclable materials collected in the City’s residential recycling collection program. In short, the City of Austin’s recycling program will continue its regular operations, regardless of the situation in China.

MYTH: Placing one incorrect item into the blue cart contaminates the entire truck full of recyclable material.

FACT: While it is always best to keep contamination to a minimum and place items into the proper carts, accidentally placing non-recyclable items into your recycling cart is a common mistake. All material collected from the blue recycling carts is delivered to a MRF where it is sorted for recycling. Any non-recyclable items will be removed during this process and disposed of properly.

MYTH: It doesn’t matter how or when carts are set out at the curb.

FACT: Most of our trucks are equipped with automatic arms that pick up the carts. If carts are set too close together or near other objects, our drivers must get out of their trucks and move the carts so the automatic arm can pick them up without bumping into or knocking over anything. Our crews can collect materials more safely and efficiently when your carts are placed five feet apart from each other and from other objects like parked cars, mailboxes, etc. Carts must be placed at the curb by 5:30 a.m. on your collection day to avoid a missed collection. Get more information on how to properly set out your carts.