Grant award: Kalamazoo’s recycling program launches cart-to-cart recycling lessons

Thanks to a new grant-funded program the City of Kalamazoo will start teaching people to do a better job recycling, by taking to the streets to check residential bins one at a time, tagging those that need work on their recycling choices.

Residents who have done a good job, with all items found to be acceptable, will simply have their recycling picked up as usual.

If checkers find deficiencies  —  such as materials that are not accepted for recycling, or that are dirty or contaminated — the cart will be tagged with an “Oops tag” after it’s emptied.

If deficiencies are found a second time, though, the cart will be tagged with a warning and the contents must be corrected before collection resumes.

Kalamazoo currently provides single-stream recycling service to 16,911 households and every Kalamazoo resident is eligible to participate in single-stream recycling — the system that allows residents to throw all recycled goods into a single cart for curbside pickup.

Each year approximately 2,261 tons are collected to be recycled — but about 10 percent of that is contaminated and must be landfilled instead, says director of public services, James Baker. 
With funding from a $67,644 grant, Kalamazoo has joined forces with other agencies and communities to help improve those numbers.

Starting the third week in September and continuing through the fall throughout the city, “Feet on the Street” cart-tagging workers will check the 96-gallon recycling carts placed on the curb for bi-weekly pickup. Workers will flip open cart lids before pickup to check the contents, and leave “oops” tags noting any problems they find.

Baker says common recycling mistakes include putting non-accepted items, such as Styrofoam and or dirty food containers, into the cart. Other items that are not accepted for recycling in Kalamazoo include:
  • Wire hangers
  • Scrap metal, screws, or nails
  • Needles or syringes
  • Glass for cooking and heat-resistant glass (like Pyrex and canning jars)
  • Light bulbs
  • Refrigerated and wax-coated paperboard (orange juice or milk cartons, some frozen food boxes, etc.) 
  • Used paper towels, tissues, or napkins
  • Cash register receipts
  • Plastic grocery bags (you can recycle these at many big box stores)
  • Any paper or cardboard with oil or food residue 
  • Glass broken into small pieces
  • Styrofoam or EPS foam

That still leaves plenty of material that is acceptable, and those items should be placed loosely in containers, Baker says. Acceptable materials include:
  • Tin, steel, and aluminum cans and lids
  • Clean aluminum foil. Please collect it into a ball instead of recycling small pieces. 
  • Plastic drink bottles (pop, water, etc.)
  • Food and household bottles and jars (ketchup, laundry detergent, shampoo, etc.)
  • Plastic tubs and lids (yogurt, margarine, etc.)
  • Any plastics labeled #1-7
  • Glass food jars (pasta sauce, pickles, etc.)
  • Magazines, newspapers, and envelopes without plastic windows
  • Wrapping paper without glitter or foil
  • Paper with staples or clips
  • Non-refrigerated paperboard or boxboard (tissue boxes, cereal boxes, etc.)
All items should be empty, clean, and dry; it’s OK to leave the labels and lids on containers. 

The “Feet on the Street” program is intended to increase the amount of quality recyclables and reduce the amount of non-recyclables in recycling carts. Developed by The Recycling Partnership, this program helps communities achieve economically efficient recycling programs, reduces the number of new resources used in packaging by providing more recycled content for new products, and improves the cleanliness of communities.

“Recycling is not only the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do,” says Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson. “Recycling properly reduces the cost of sending recyclable materials to the landfill, supports jobs, and improves the health of the environment. We know residents want to recycle the right way and through this campaign, we are providing them personalized, real-time feedback to do just that.”

“The Recycling Partnership is excited to continue working with MI EGLE and Michigan communities to improve residential recycling across the state,” says Cassandra Ford, Community Program Manager at The Recycling Partnership. “Through this project, we are helping capture more quality recyclables that are then transformed into new materials, as well as creating and supporting jobs, less waste, and stronger, healthier communities.”

The Partnership has successfully implemented the “Feet on the Street” program in more than 70 communities around the nation, with some communities seeing as much as a 57 percent decrease of nonrecyclables in recycling carts and an average a 27 percent increase in the overall capture of quality recyclables. 

City residents can learn more about what is and is not acceptable here.

About recycling in Kalamazoo
The City of Kalamazoo has offered a recycling program since 1994.  The recycling program was expanded and upgraded in 2016 to a single-stream program. The City of Kalamazoo manages and operates the recycling program through a single contract vendor, there are no variations in the program, all residents receive the same great service. 

 About The Recycling Partnership
Since 2014, the nonprofit change agent has diverted 500 million pounds of new recyclables from landfills, saved 968 million gallons of water, avoided more than 500,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases, and drove significant reductions in targeted contamination rates.

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Read more articles by Rosemary Parker.

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years, most of that time in Southwest Michigan.