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Why Hamilton County recycling is so expensive

HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind. — More people are recycling in Hamilton County, but not everything in the recycling bin is making it to the material recovery facilities.

Data from the Hamilton County Hazardous Waste Center (HHW) shows recycling has increased overall every year since 2013, however, mixed recycling has decreased. Leslie Taljaard, director of the HHW, said this is due in part to changing restrictions from their vendor.

Since 2017, Republic has charged the HHW a contamination fee if more than 10 percent of the items in the recycling bin were non-recyclable. This includes:

  • Plastic bags and wrappers
  • Soiled paper
  • Styrofoam
  • Clothing and shoes
  • Greasy pizza boxes
  • Tools
  • Food
  • Toys
  • Electronics and Batteries
  • Construction Waste
  • Medical Waste
  • Yard Waste
  • Diapers
  • Scrap Metal

In 2021 alone, Republic charged HHW $10,000 in contamination fees. This is on top of the increased costs they are facing with having more pick ups. The center’s annual costs have increased from $40,000 in 2017 to just under $100,000 by the end of 2020 an expense that is passed on to the taxpayer.

This is something that other waste management districts in the state are also dealing with.

“All waste management districts around the state are all facing these same choices with recycling and some of them have made the hard choice to even close down their facilities because the costs are so much higher than what they can actually make it work,” said Leslie Taljaard, director of the Hamilton County Solid Waste Management District.

Beyond the additional expense, Taljaard said the contamination may cause the entire bin to be taken to the landfill instead of a material recovery facility to find its second life.

“If the continuation fee is over 10% for commingled bin, then they do choose to landfill it instead and then. That’s unfortunate for the good people who are following the signs, bringing a material that is very recyclable,” said Taljaard. “So for that to end up in landfills is really disappointing.”

Taljaard said one thing that may be causing the increase in contamination is confusion on product labeling. While consumer goods may say they are recyclable, not everywhere will accept them.

“Just because a container says it’s recyclable doesn’t mean it’s recyclable anywhere and you need to check with your local facility to ensure what they can and can’t accept,” said Taljaard.

Taljaard also said they are facing issues with people ‘wishcycling’, or recycling items that they think should be recyclable. She said the most important thing anyone can do is double check before putting an item in the recycling bin.

“The most important thing you can do as a resident coming and using our facility is to follow the signs are on our machines follow the guidance is on there and if you have a question please come and talk to our staff. Ask them if something is or isn’t recyclable we might be able to give you directions to an alternative place,” said Taljaard.

The HHW reminds people that they accept the following clean, empty and dry recyclables.

  • flattened cardboard
  • paper (not shredded)
  • metal cans
  • plastic bottles and jugs
  • glass

The general recycling area is open 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Saturdays. They are closed on county government holidays. For more information, visit the Household Hazardous Waste Center website.

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