Busted: Debunking Recycling Myths in the City

This month's myth:
You must remove bottle caps and throw them away when recycling bottles.

REALITY: The old story was that one should take off bottle caps, throw them away, and then recycle the bottle. Now we understand that the city's new recycling processor, Waste Management, can recycle bottle caps and they should be left ON the bottle. Yes, we just blew your mind. The balers that compact the sorted bottles are much stronger than the old ones, and can crush bottles with the caps still on. If the caps are removed, they're so small and light that they'll just end up in the trash at the end of the sorting line.

Previous Months' Myths

Recycling should be free for commercial establishments

FALSE! Sometimes doing the right thing is a little harder. It's a little harder to wait that extra block for a recycling bin when you've got an empty soda bottle in your hand. It's a little harder to pick up the right item at the supermarket that has less recyclable packaging.

Just as if your business currently has trash collection, it might cost a little more to add recycling. In today's recovering commodities markets, recyclables have value, but that doesn't offset the added cost of running an extra truck to come and pick up your bottles and cans besides all of the regular trash.

The counterargument is that if recycling is a priority, there is probably less regular trash to remove, which could reduce trash service and costs. The only problem is that waste haulers are hip to this game and reluctant to reduce service (and bills) and release customers from multiyear contracts. But sometimes accommodations can be made, so it's worth talking to your waste hauler. A professional waste and recycling expert can also help guide you through the process.

In summary, recycling is never free, but it can be made cost effective through overall trash reduction and smart management.

Sanitation workers must scan your RecycleBank sticker for you to get credit.

FALSE! When you sign up for the Philadelphia Recycling Rewards program, you receive a sticker to place on your recycling bin. Embedded in this sticker is an RFID (radio frequency identification) tag, similar to the EZ-Pass technology. As recycling is collected by a worker, the tags are immediately picked up by a reader on the truck, and your participation is recorded. The worker does not have to scan the sticker- or make any other changes to collection- making it efficient and easy!

The City throws out recycling that has food waste on it.

REALITY: This is a slightly more complicated myth with some gray area.

If a container has a little bit of food residue on it, it will still get recycled. It is best to rinse out and clean containers before putting them in the recycling so the system at Blue Mountain Recycling (where the city takes all of its recycling) can accurately sort them and can maintain the quality of the materials they produce by minimizing the residue.

Here is what a representative from Blue Mountain told us:

"Do people need to waste gallons and gallons of water in order to thoroughly clean each container? No, but at the same time we don't want to get plastic tubs full of peanut butter or ketchup because either they won't sort correctly in our system and will end up with the residue or they'll contaminate the outbound commodity."

So, you should make an effort to rinse out your containers and get as much of the food residues off as possible, but if you couldn't get every last bit of peanut butter off the jar or if you happen to be somewhere without access to a sink, you can still recycle it.

Recycling won't save businesses money.

FALSE! A well-planned and executed recycling programs saves money on disposal fees.

Philadelphia was the first city in country to enact mandatory curbside recycling. Streets and Walkways Education and Enforcement Program (SWEEP) officers are charged with enforcing trash and recycling laws and are authorized to write $25 tickets to residents caught not recycling.

Even though the prices for recycled material have fallen dramatically, recycling programs cost considerably less than sending waste to the landfill or incinerator, which costs on average $65-$75/ton. With disposal costs so high, this is an ideal time for businesses to assess the amount of waste they create. Businesses can easily reduce waste through purchasing products with less or reusable packaging and using paperless technology.

According to the GrassRoots Recycling Network, large companies such as Xerox, Hewlett-Packard and Pillsbury have all achieve close to 95% recycling rates — with an eventual goal of zero waste. Philadelphia-based businesses, Northern Liberties Press and Yards Brewing Company have also made a commitment to recycling and are seeing the benefits in lower disposal costs.

For more information on starting a commercial recycling program, please visit the Greater Philadelphia Commercial Recycling Council's website.

There is no penalty for not recycling in Philadelphia.

FALSE! Recycling in Philadelphia is the law and fines will be issued to those who do not recycle.

Philadelphia was the first city in country to enact mandatory curbside recycling. Streets and Walkways Education and Enforcement Program (SWEEP) officers are charged with enforcing trash and recycling laws and are authorized to write $25 tickets to residents caught not recycling.

Recently the Nutter Administration has ramped up recycling enforcement and more SWEEP officers have been hired. They will be focusing their efforts especially on apartment complexes and commercial establishments that are not providing recycling for their tenants. To get your commercial apartment building, office building or business up to speed with recycling laws, read the City of Philadelphia’s Guide to Turning Philadelphia’s Recycling Regulations Into an Opportunity or visit the Greater Philadelphia Commercial Recycling Council website.

At home, make sure you set out your recycling curbside at the appropriate time to avoid getting a ticket. Most neighborhoods have daytime collection and should set out recyclables between 7 p.m. the night before collection day and 7 a.m. the day of collection. If you have evening collection, set out recyclables between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on your collection day.

If you have received a fine or have a question please contact the Philadelphia Streets Department at 215-686-5560.