Contamination causes difficulties in Missoula-area recycling efforts


MISSOULA, Mont. - Staff at a Missoula-area recycling facility want folks to take steps to ensure their recyclable materials are properly processed, rather than ending up in a land fill.

Republic Services Operations Manager David Seeberger gave NBC Montana a tour of just one of more than 150 republic recycling centers in the United States.

"It's very important to know the products that you're trying to recycle are free of contamination," said Seeberger.

The facility in Missoula has more examples than Seeberger would like of contaminated recycle loads that people have submitted for processing. A load is considered contaminated when non-recyclable items are placed with recyclable items, or if the folks submitting the materials have improperly sorted the materials.

"The contamination ultimately means, either, it's harder to process or it will actually have to be thrown away and defeat the purpose of recycling it," said Seeberger.

Contaminated cardboard loads can mean there's non-corrugated cardboard in the mix, and sometimes restaurants will leave food on materials.

"If we wind up getting food contamination, say, from some of the restaurants that we pick up, that could actually cause us to have to throw out an entire bail of cardboard," said Seeberger.

In the newspapers loads, people sometimes mistakenly toss in the loose plastic sacks the papers arrive in. People will also sometimes leave general garbage in a load of perfectly recyclable plastic.

Staff at the facility doesn't try to process mixed plastics, but for "number one" and "number two" category plastics, staff have to run the materials over a sorting line to remove garbage and improperly sorted materials.

Seeberger's message: Crews do what they can to make sure recyclable materials don't end up in a landfill, but the public can take proactive steps to help ensure their materials are processed properly.