Contamination Increasing With Tulsans Recycling Trash

Wednesday, March 19th 2014, 7:04 pm
By: Emory Bryan

The city of Tulsa is having trouble with trash ending up in recycling bins. It causes so much contamination that city inspectors have to actually go check to see what people put out for recycling.

Contamination has always been a problem, but it's getting worse. To see the problem, we went along for a ride with the recycling truck.

The big change to Tulsa's trash system was universal recycling, a blue cart for everyone. The idea was, that less trash costs the city less for disposal; and the value of what's recycled brings in cash.

The problem is, people are putting trash in with recycling. When there's a lot of it, the cart is left at the curb. When there's a little, workers, sometimes, pick it out and leave it behind.

One had metal car parts in it. And on a street in Gilcrease Hills, at least half of the cans had bags of trash, or something that's not supposed to be in there.

The city inspectors said the biggest problem is grass and tree limbs, but plastic bags are a problem, pizza boxes and all sorts of trash that shouldn't be in recycling.

Darren Stefanek, with the city of Tulsa, said, "Plastic film, plastic bags, Styrofoam is another big one. Believe it or not, garden hoses and things of that nature."

The recycling contractor has a machine that sorts out much of the material, but they're getting lots of trash mixed in. It slows down the process and sometimes shuts down the machine because so many odd things end up in there.

Still, the city says most residents do the right thing, like Art Ruby.

"I try to just keep my recycling to a few plastics and paper mostly, and the plastic is empty laundry bottles, soda bottles, something like that," Ruby said.

The city is deploying inspectors to go out ahead of trucks and look to see what's in there. They've already inspected cans at 5,000 homes. They found about 25-percent of everything that's in recycling is actually trash.

"We'll have to do quite a bit more, I think we'll take 6 months to get things back on track to get back to good levels, which we hope would be 15 percent," Stefanek said.

The city said the inspection program is working and they're hoping more publicity will help even more.

According to the city, homeowners in north and east Tulsa put more trash in recycling, than people in central or west Tulsa.