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To succeed at recycling, the city of Akron wants residents to learn to 'recycle right'

Cardboard placed in recycling bins.
Keep Akron Beautiful
Akron partners with Keep Akron Beautiful to teach residents about proper recycling.

Akron is partnering with the nonprofit Keep Akron Beautiful to encourage residents to improve their recycling habits with the return of the ‘Recycle Right’ initiative.

“This program, an initiative, was born in 2019 because the city was very close to being asked to quit recycling,” said Jacqui Ricchiuti, Keep Akron Beautiful’s CEO. “Our contamination rate was 39% and if we got to the 40% mark, we would no longer be able to have recycling in action.”

The nonprofit will work closely with specially trained personnel during this phase of the initiative as they inspect recycling bins throughout the city, Ricchiuti said.

So far, the program has been extremely successful, she said. The contamination rate has decreased 13%, which in turn drove down contamination costs by more than $160,000.

“We were paying upwards of $200,000 in contamination fees every year,” Ricchiuti said. “After two rounds of this, we’ve brought that down to just to just under or just over a little bit over $38,000.”

According to Ricchiuti, the goal is to get the contamination rate below 20% to lower the fees and reduce the amount residents must pay in taxes.

“We want clean, dry recyclables,” Ricchiuti said. “The thing that we’re seeing the most of right now is people leaving a little bit of food crumbs or juice or water in their plastic bottles or cans that are in the carts.”

Ricchiuti said an issue the city faces is residents bagging their recyclables, which means they will be considered trash and sent to the landfill. It also affects the machines at the Material Recycling Facility as the bages get tangled in the sorters.

All recyclables must be placed loosely in bins instead, Ricciuti said.

Learning how to properly recycle is key, she said.

“There’s an app, the Akron Recycles app, where people can see if they’re accepted at the curbside and if they’re not, where else they can recycle them,” Ricchiuti said. “They can also familiarize themselves with the 'Oops' tag.”

The “Oops” tag will be put on bins of Akron residents who have non-recyclables in their cans and will give them information on how to recycle properly, according to Ricchiuti. Along with the tag, cans that have non-recyclables in them will not be emptied. Residents will then have a week to remove any contaminants from their bins.

“I think it’s really important [to recycle] for the next generation,” Ricchiuti said. “This campaign is helping us to educate our residents on what really belongs in their recycling cart, and it helps us to keep the program sustainable for our city and for the environment”

The initiative will last until August 9.

Des Torres is an intern at Ideastream Public Media.