Nine years after the start of a curbside recycling program, city workers say El Pasoans still don’t get it.
“Within the last few years, we have seen the contamination rate of non-recyclable items in the blue container dramatically increase,” said Raeann Ortega Recycling, manager of the Environmental Services Department with the city of El Paso.
Ortega said people are frequently tossing non-recyclables into their blue bins, which increases costs for labor to sort out at the city’s recycling centers.
“Within the last twelve months we spent approximately $750,000 in processing fees,” Ortega said.
The most common mistake residents make is putting Styrofoam containers and pizza boxes in the blue bins or taking inappropriate items with their recyclable items to one of four citywide Citizen Collection Sites (CCS).
Rafael Pineda, head of the city-run CCS location at Pendale Road in east El Paso, says that although he does his best to educate residents that, “Styrofoam is trash” and should not be recycled, people continue to bring it, along with pizza boxes and other contaminated items, to the recycling center.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “I keep on finding them in the compactor and they are contaminated.”
The Environmental Services Department recycling curbside program began in 2007. Over the last nine years the department has spent $350,000 on advertising to educate the public about what to recycle. But after the advertising campaign ended in 2010, the city has seen an increase in non-recyclable items being tossed into the recycling system.
In December 2015 the Friedman Recycling Facility that processes the city’s recycling materials added an additional 15 percent charge to separate and dispose of non-recyclable items.
The city has responded by reintroducing its community education “Recycle Right” programming to encourage proper recycling habits. Environmental Services workers have been placing posters on Sun Metro community buses and agency representatives will also be attending City Council meetings and neighborhood association gatherings to provide information on proper recycling.
“We also set up booths at many events where information is given. We host ESD’s Earth Day celebration and Bags2Benches competitions,” Ortega said. Bags2Benches is program where the city teamed up with Trex, a manufacturer of wood-alternative products, to turn plastic bags into benches. It takes 70,000 recycled plastic bags to make one bench.
Types of plastic bags accepted are ice bags, bread bags, cereal bags, bubble wrap, produce bags, shopping bags, dry cleaning bags, food storage bags, and newspaper sleeves.
Reasons to recycle, according to The City of El Paso’s Environmental Services Department:
- For every one million sheets of paper not printed, 85 pulp trees are saved.
- Recycling an aluminum can saves enough energy to run a television set for three hours.
- By using plastic in packaging, American product manufactures save enough energy each year to power a city of one million homes for three-and-a-half years.
- The aluminum beverage can returns to the grocer’s shelf in as little as 60 days after collection.
- Americans buy over 85 million tons of paper per year-that’s about 700 pounds per person.
- Most aluminum recovered is used to manufacture new cans.
- 99% of all beer cans and 97% of all soft drink cans are made of aluminum.
Spreading the word
According to Ortega, her department spent $300,000 from September 2016 to August 2017 on awareness messaging to “get the message out there and re-educate our community.”
The Environmental Services Department collects approximately 30 tons of material each year from the more than 130,000 blue recycling bins distributed among residents.
In addition, each week about 250 residents take their own recyclable material to the city’s Citizen Collection Sites where it is separated and sorted for proper recycling then taken to Friedman Recycling facility where it is processed. Materials accepted include clean cardboard, glass, aluminum, steel items, paper and plastic.
The CCS locations are open only to residents who can show proof of their El Paso city home address.
Jake Yanez, manager of the CCS on Pendale Road, said the facility has launched a pilot program to recycle glass because discarded glass has multiple uses.
“The glass has been used for landscaping and for mulch… we separate it and we crush it by color,” he said.
The glass is free to the public. Residents are welcome to take as much crushed glass as they want. Many use it for specialty projects, Yanez said.
“People are very creative,” he said.
The city has an online recycling guide here. Residents are asked to follow the guidelines and not include items in the blue bins like food waste or food-soiled containers. Other no-no’s for the bins are tires, wax or plastic coated boxes, paint cans, aerosol cans, automotive parts, carpeting, diapers, construction materials and yard waste.
Glass, glass bottles and jars may be taken to the CCS at 1036 Pendale.
For additional information on the city recycling program, go to http://www.elpasotexas.gov/recycle