Residents of the District of Columbia are recycling more, and they are recycling more effectively, keeping items that are not recyclable out of their recycling bins. Between October 2017 and June 2018, DC residents increased the amount they recycle by 9.5%, which equates to an average monthly increase of 200 tons. Residue, the leftover material in the recycling stream that cannot be recycled, decreased by eight percentage points from 27% in 2017 to 19% in 2018.
“Mayor Bowser has committed to making DC a global sustainability leader, and the results are showing,” said Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Chris Geldart. “While our progress is exciting, our work isn’t done. When people put trash items in their recycling bins, it ends up costing a lot of money to sort those items out. Educating residents about what items should and shouldn’t go in their blue bins is big part of our job. While our contamination rate is currently down to 19%, we’d like to get it closer to 12%.”
The results are detailed in recent study conducted by Resource Recycling Systems, a recycling consultancy commissioned by DPW to measure the District’s residential recycling stream. The study included two largescale recycling sorts—one in 2017 and the other in 2018—that examined the materials collected by DPW recycling crews from residents’ homes throughout the District.
The increase in recycling is largely attributed to three key initiatives undertaken by the District over the last two years.
- Mayor Bowser’s expansion of the number of items that can be recycled in the District, including items like pizza boxes, and paper/plastic cups/plates.
- Operational changes at DPW, including optimizing recycling routes, establishing dedicated recycling crews and supervisors, and improved equipment availability.
- A comprehensive public education campaign, including extensive community outreach, mailings to residents, advertisements, and the launch of the Zero Waste DC website.
According to the study, plastic bags are a major source of contamination. Plastic bags are not accepted in District recycling bins as they clog recycling machinery, creating safety risks for employees at recycling sorting facilities. In September of 2018, DPW sent postcards to the District households it services reminding residents that recyclables should be placed in bins loose, or in paper bags.
A new mailer reminding residents what items can and can’t be recycled in the District is currently being mailed and is expected to arrive in mailboxes by May 11.
DPW provides essential city services in two distinct program areas: environmental services/solid waste management and parking enforcement. Both contribute to making District streets and public spaces clean, safe, attractive and accessible for all residents, businesses, commuters and visitors.