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Plastic container recycling guidelines varies by waste vendor

Waste Management not accepting cartons for recycling

The three recycling haulers serving Routt County basically accept the same co-mingled materials, except when it comes to plastic containers, which varies by vendor.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

As Steamboat Springs moves forward with some recent recycling study recommendations, including required recycling for multi-family housing and businesses, Waste Management officials want to help boost awareness of their recycling guidelines to reduce contamination rates.

Jennifer Wargo, Waste Management communications director for Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, said WM customers need to know that although the recycler accepts plastic containers labeled No. 1 through No. 7, those plastic containers should be shaped similar to a bottle, jug, tub or jar.

“We understand there is lot of confusion, but we just ask people to do their best,” Wargo said. “The numbers and the mobius are very confusing. That number represents the dominate form of plastic but isn’t necessarily 100% that resin.”



The communications director said increased labeling of plastic packaging is adding to consumer confusion, in addition to changes in recycling markets in the past few years.

Differences in plastic containers accepted by the three waste and recycling vendors serving Routt County — Waste Management, Twin Enviro and SRC Recycle and Refuge — adds to the confusion for consumers, who need to check bin labeling and guidelines regarding recycling plastic containers.



Beyond plastics, the three vendors accept basically the same materials in the co-mingled recycled containers.

SRC offers recycling pickup only within the municipalities of Steamboat, Oak Creek, Yampa and Phippsburg including for No. 1 through No. 7 plastic containers that are taken to the Eagle County Solid Waste and Recycling Center. Because the materials that SRC picks up are processed at the Eagle County facility, those customers have a bit more flexibility for plastic container recycling in their pickups, according to James Stull at the center.

For customers using Twin Enviro, recycling plastics is more limited because the vendor does not accept No. 3 through No. 7 plastics, according to Katie Panter with Twin Enviro.

Additionally, Waste Management does not accept cartons and paper to-go cups for recycling. Wargo said the recycler has never accepted paper to-go cups for recycling, but the company previously accepted cartons for recycling through 2016, such as school lunch milk cartons.

“The market evaporated around 2016, and it was no longer cost effective to collect, sort and bale cartons,” Wargo said, explaining why cartons were removed from the list of acceptable materials in 2017.

Wargo believes recyclers should err on the side of caution to improve recycling contamination, especially for plastic containers.

“If it (plastic) is not shaped like a bottle, jug, tub or jar, throw it out because it’s probably not recyclable in curbside collection,” Wargo said of WM guidelines. “Plastic really makes it complicated, because there is so much packaging that is plastic.”

Glass containers, which are heavy to transport and susceptible to breakage, remain challenging for recycling collections in rural areas.

“We do lose money on glass, and we try to make it up with the other commodities depending on where they are in (price) any given month,” Wargo said.

On the bright side for the recycling industry, prices for bailed plastic containers have risen along with current increases in petroleum prices, Wargo said. She encourages consumers to try to buy products that are listed as containing recycled content to help support the recycling industry.

Waste Management officials said they are in support of the city of Steamboat commercial recycling requirement that is moving forward.

“WM fully supports the Steamboat Springs City Council’s efforts to increase recycling, and we are prepared to offer recycling solutions to the business community,” said Nathan Burns, senior account executive in northwest Colorado.

For more, go to YVSC.org/Recycling.


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