This month, Mt. Lebanon and other South Hills Area Council of Government (SHACOG) communities will implement recycling rules mandated by the new five-year contract with Waste Management. Trash will continue to be picked up weekly; recycling pickup will continue to be bi-weekly. But there are significant changes in what we can recycle. Cardboard, metals and plastics with numbers 1 and 2 (bottles, jars and jugs only) are still acceptable for recycling, but you may no longer place any glass or flexible plastics 3-7 in your recycling bin. This change is dictated by a lack of demand for some of the plastics, as well as problems with contamination.
A load may be contaminated and rejected at the plant because flexible materials such as plastic bags or shredded paper get entangled with the equipment, slowing or stopping the process and increasing the cost. A load containing shattered glass or unclean plastics also is considered contaminated because Pacific Rim countries where we send recyclables will reject it. China, for instance, notified the World Trade Organization last year that it would ban the import of 24 scrap materials and has limited its contamination standard for any load of material imported to less than 0.5 percent. No matter the reason, contaminated loads end up in a landfill.
With contamination levels currently reaching 20 to 25 percent of curbside recycling materials, we must eliminate shattered glass, plastic bags, shredded paper, items with food residue and other contaminants before these materials enter our facility.
None of the three waste haulers who submitted bids to SHACOG were willing to accept glass or plastics other than # 1 or 2, harder plastic containers and jugs.
2019 is an educational year. Waste Management will spot check curbside containers, picking up most recyclables as a courtesy but leaving reminder notices with instructions if the recyclables are not prepared properly. Do not put recyclable in plastic bags, however. If you do, the haulers will leave your recyclables behind along with a notice asking you to re-sort and put your bin out for the next pickup.
In 2020, SHACOG communities will be penalized $150 per contaminated load, a possible burden to Mt. Lebanon taxpayers of more than $250,000 a year.
SHACOG, municipal staff and Mt. Lebanon’s environmental sustainability board are looking into places that might offer glass recycling for people who are willing to transport the glass themselves. In the meantime, selecting packaged goods carefully and looking for ways to reuse and repurpose materials can make a difference. For more information, check out FAQs and videos or visit Waste Management.