Too much trash showing up in recycling loads

JOHNSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The wrong stuff is showing up in Rhode Island recycling bins.

Bags of junk. Rubber mats. Garden hoses. Just plain garbage.

Oh, and a boat.

Yes, someone tried to recycle a small dinghy.

Sarah Kite-Reeves, the director of Recycling Services at Rhode Island Recovery Corporation in Johnston, says it’s a puzzle.

“For some reason, we’re not quite sure why, we’re seeing a lot more food scraps, leaf and yard debris — even things like dirty diapers and needles are showing up in the recycling stream,” said Kite-Reeves.

The junk that doesn’t belong started cropping up in earnest a few months ago, and Kite-Reeves is asking for any clues or ideas as to why.

In August, 13 RIRRC workers were exposed to some kind of gas; they had to go to the hospital, but luckily no long-term harm was done — they all came back to work the next day, says Kite-Reeves.

The thing is, the Resource Recovery Corporation wants people to know that recycling just doesn’t disappear at the curb; workers handle all the pieces. A human being, not a machine, has to sift through and examine every load. Non-recyclables have to be pulled out by hand.

Paint cans, propane tanks and car fluid containers are definitely not recyclable. “If any of those things, even like a small campfire propane tank, ends up in our bailer — it’s the machine that presses our recyclables together for shipment — it would explode.”

In fact, if you or your neighbor tries to throw away trash in with recycling, and the load is contaminated, it could potentially cost you as a taxpayer. Your city will be charged $250 a load if it contains an item that belongs in the garbage.

The basic rule, she says, is to think “CONTAINERS and PAPER” when you are recycling. Anything that “wraps” is a problem. Plastic bags, “Ropes, hoses, chains, anything that wraps around our sorter equipment does not belong in your bin,” said Kite-Reeves.

Neither do boats.

“Boats are certainly not recyclable here at the Materials Handling Center,” said Kite-Reeves.

The puzzle is: why is there a recent uptick in unrecyclable items?

“I’m asking for people to let me know,” said Kite-Reeves, “if something has changed in their household, has something changed in their city. Has something changed in their perception of the rules?”

To look at all the recycling rules, and find out what you can and can’t recycle, go to Recycle Together RI’s website at

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