City Recycling Bins

Recycling bins curbside.

ATTLEBORO — The city could be facing a big price hike to recycle if residents don’t clean the trash out of their recycling bins, a health department official told the city council this week.

Health Agent Alan Perry said recycling audits conducted by the city’s trash hauler, Waste Management, have found loads that are supposed to be limited to recyclable material contain from 25 percent to 33 percent trash by weight.

Under the city’s contract with WM, its recyclables can not contain more than 10 percent trash, putting it 15 percent to 23 percent above the limit.

Perry was present at the most recent audit, which showed that 25 percent of a recyclables load was contaminated with trash or non-recyclables.

Numbers like those could force the city, which is paying just $15 a ton to dispose of recyclables, into negotiations with WM on a rate increase, he said.

“The hauler could seek to renegotiate because we are not meeting our 10 percent,” Perry said.

That has not happened yet, but it’s a possibility, he said.

“The commitment we’ve made is to work in any way possible to reduce the contamination rates,” he said.

The $15 a ton the city pays to dispose of recyclables under a contract that is good until 2020 is a bargain, Perry said.

Some municipalities pay $50 to $150 a ton. Some communities have even lost their recycling contracts, he said. Others are involved in lawsuits because of the problem.

Currently, all towns and cities out of compliance with contamination limits are under pressure to reduce the amount of trash in recycling bins.

And that in turn is because trash haulers like WM are under pressure from recyclers in China to reduce contamination levels or the material won’t be accepted.

Solid waste administrator Jessica Singarella said all kinds of trash are found in recycling bins including Styrofoam, metal, car seats, clothing and plastic bags.

Perry said auto tires and tarpaulins have been found as well.

While they don’t weigh much, one of the biggest problems is mixing plastic bags in with recyclables. All of those have to be removed and it’s costly, he said.

The failure to empty and rinse all containers including food and drink containers and remove garbage is an issue as well.

Another problem is putting legitimate recyclables in plastic bags. That’s prohibited.

The issue has been roiling some residents who have complained to councilors when they get a “friendly reminder” from the health department that they cannot put certain items in recycling bins.

They get a warning first and after that it’s a $25 fine.

Anyone who needs more information about what is and isn’t recyclable can go to the city’s website and click on “government” and then click on “recycling and rubbish.”

Or they can send an email to or call Singarella at 508-223-2222, ext. 3241.

George W. Rhodes can be reached at 508-236-0432.

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