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September 23, 2013

Tip List: Merced hopes education will curb waste ‘contamination’

A look at the city’s waste diversion rate. The numbers decreased slightly since last year, but residents and businesses continue to put garbage in with recyclables and green waste in Merced. That “contaminated” material costs the city more at the landfill.

The percentage is down slightly when comparing this year to last, but some Mercedians continue to throw garbage in the recycling and green waste cans.

“We get everything from carpet to construction materials to a whole host of stuff,” said Dan Arnold, Merced’s public works manager. “People think if it’s in their yard and goes bad that it becomes yard waste.”

The rate of garbage rejected by the Merced County landfill for not being sorted properly dropped slightly. Rejected recycling last year made up 42 percent of the waste delivered, down from 49.7 percent the previous year.

Rejected green waste made up 17.1percent of that delivered, down two percentage points from the previous year.

Arnold said all of the city’s garbage trucks are equipped with cameras that spy on the waste as it is dumped into the trucks. When the driver spots waste that doesn’t belong in a green waste or recycling can, he or she can report the address to Public Works.

Last year, the department mailed 1,169 recycling and 1,591 green waste contamination warning letters. A second letter was issued to 157 recycling and 286 green waste accounts.

Councilwoman Mary-Michal Rawling said she suspects not all residents know exactly what type of waste can be recycled. The problem is that Merced County’s landfill charges more for “contaminated” waste than properly sorted waste.

“Besides it being good for our environment, it’s really in the best interest of the city’s pocketbook to divert as much as we can,” Rawling said.

The city paid four times or more for waste not sorted properly.

In 2012, Merced paid $75,207 to dump 7,163 tons of sorted green waste, but $57,591 for just 1,506 tons of unsorted green waste. The city paid $19,159 to dump 2,320 tons of sorted recyclables, compared with $49,855 for 1,265 tons of unsorted recyclables.

It’s the job of Merced’s recycling coordinator, Monique Gama, to try to educate residents about their waste.

Gama said many recyclable items bear markings to tell residents where they go. The bottles and jugs have a triangle made of three arrows with a number inside.

The landfill accepts bottles and jugs marked with a 1 or 2 for recycling, Gama said. Any other number belongs with regular waste.

Another common mistake residents make is putting pizza boxes into the blue recycling bin.

“If it’s got the grease and the food, it’s something that cannot be recycled, because they can’t separate that grease and food waste,” Gama said, adding that pizza boxes go in the gray waste can.

Gama said plastic bags, such as those that come from a market, are recyclable, but are not recycled at the landfill.

“You can take those bags back to a lot of the big stores,” she said, adding that stores often keep receptacles near the entrance. “Or, we recommend reusing them.”

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