More Is Going Into The Blue Bins, But Ada County Still Doesn't Recycle Right

Jan 4, 2021

With many of us staying home and ordering items online, there’s more recycling being done in the Treasure Valley this year. And a new report shows the amount of recyclable materials ending up in the Ada County landfill has actually increased this year.

As I chased the recycling truck to the curb a couple days after Christmas, I noticed nearly every blue bin on my block was overflowing. A holiday bump in recycling volume is normal, said Republic Services General Manager Bob Bennett. But in 2020, recycling volume in the Treasure Valley was already up 12% through November.

A Republic Services truck grabs a blue curbside recycling bin. (Undated)
Credit Republic Services

“Based on some of the volume that we're seeing in December, we're expecting that number to jump a little bit more,” Bennett said. He’ll know just how much once all the collection data is finalized sometime in mid-January.

Lifestyle changes many have made during the pandemic, like ordering items for delivery and consuming more at home, have turned into about three pounds more recycling per can this year, Bennett says. That also means trucks are visiting fewer homes before they’re full.

“Where this will become more impactful is, if we see another large bump going into 2021, we are going to have to put more routes on the street in order to keep up with it,” he said.

But more stuff in the blue bin doesn’t necessarily mean we’re doing a better job at recycling. A 2020 survey by Ada County Waste Management shows 14% of landfill trash examined was fiber-based recyclable content - primarily cardboard. That’s up from 10% the last time the survey was done six years ago. 

“There is far more of this material coming from multi-family units like apartments and condos,” Said county landfill Education and Outreach Director Theresa Rademacher. “[Recycling] relies heavily on the landlord providing the service for the tenant.”

Rademacher said more education is also needed about what refuse goes where, and when. Currently, about 30% of what ends up in mixed recycling collection shouldn’t be there, like most plastics and greasy cardboard. Those items can contaminate entire recycling loads, forcing all of it to the landfill.

The county’s trash survey examined trash loads from residential pickups, transfer station drop-offs and trash brought directly to the landfill.

“[Workers] take loads of trash and pull them aside, segregate a part of it and then dig through it,” Rademacher explains of the quarterly process. Items are sorted into categories of recyclables — paper products, plastics, metal, organics like food waste and yard waste, wood waste and construction debris.

Overall, the percentage of trash surveyed that could easily be recycled increased from 12.5% in 2014 to 19% in 2020. Compostable and organic matter in the trash stream grew from about 34% to 38% in that time, despite the city of Boise’s curbside compost pickup program introduced in 2017.

Still, Rademacher said there were some findings she’s optimistic about.

"Pretty much everything was better except for that cardboard that we're talking about, but everything else was pretty good,” she said. “We are seeing a lot less metal coming to the landfill.”

She says in the coming months, Ada County’s solid waste advisory committee will begin examining ways to help cities improve recycling availability for multi-family units. The group is also exploring more ways to divert recyclable materials away from the trash pile when they arrive at the Ada County Landfill.

Follow Troy Oppie on Twitter @GoodBadOppie for more local news.

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