Trash cartoon

It’s easy to think that your individual contribution to recycling, in a city of over 700,000 people, won’t make much of a difference — but that’s not true. It absolutely can!

On the other hand, you may think you are already recycling correctly, but in reality, your well-meaning efforts are only generating more waste.

So, what exactly is the solution here?

First, let’s talk about a few of the problems. It’s important to note that Baton Rouge uses a single-stream collection method for sorting recyclable materials. This means that you don’t have to separate your recycling by category — you can put all of your plastic, paper, metal, glass and cardboard recyclables into one container.

This kind of system does two things: it increases the amount of recycling within the city by making it much easier for individuals to contribute, while also leading to an increase in contamination and waste within the recycling system.

Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to recycle correctly, and it’s not necessarily their fault. The Baton Rouge Recycling Office is, for lack of better words, a complete mess. They have collection centers where recycling gets picked up on a weekly schedule, but the idea that you can bring your recycling to one of these centers for convenient pick-up is not true.

You need a state-issued bin to leave at one of these centers if you want your items to be collected, but it’s difficult to get one and even harder to leave and retrieve your bin at a collection center according to the Recycling Office's schedule.

Individual apartments, homes and businesses are not eligible to be added to the list of collection sites. If you live in an apartment complex, you may be able to talk to your property manager and get them to consider signing up for a recycling pickup system, but they will have to pay for pickup and containers if they want to participate. Even then, it won’t be provided by the city but will need to be done through a private collection service.

So, if you want to recycle in Baton Rouge (and you should!), your only free and reliable option will be to bring your recycling to the community drop-off center yourself. This can be done 24/7, or during weekday business hours if you need assistance, at the Materials Recovery Facility.

Before I tell you where this is, there are some crucial things you need to know before you start recycling — things you may not realize even if you are already recycling on your own.

First of all, if you don’t recycle correctly (i.e., if you put non-recyclable or contaminated materials in with the rest of your items), it hurts the efficiency of the system, and may result in your entire contribution being thrown out.

Recycling the right way takes some time and effort, but if you do it correctly you will see just how much you really can contribute, especially when the bins coming back from public facilities like the University are often filled with trash or contaminated materials.

This actually means that your individual contribution is way more important, as tons of what gets picked up at collection sites is not suitable for the system and will end up becoming waste anyway.

So, let’s start with the biggest, most fundamental piece of information.

I cannot overstate this: if you leave your recycling at the community drop-off in a container that itself is not made of recyclable materials (this includes plastic garbage bags, bins and certain other packaging boxes), it will be thrown away without even being opened.

I called 311, the city’s request-for-service line, to talk to someone who could connect me to someone at the recycling department (as the number online wasn’t answered), who could answer my questions.

According to her, the best receptacle is a paper grocery bag (think Trader Joe's) or a cardboard box (just check to make sure it doesn’t have any plastic coating, packaging tape or other plastic/Styrofoam materials left on it). Basically, the container should be recyclable as well as the contents within it.

Now, the next thing most people don’t know is that a plastic bottle or container of any kind is only recyclable if it has the little triangle on it somewhere, and then it needs to be cleaned so that no food or drink is left inside (the same goes for any paper, glass and cardboard.) Finally, the cap and wrapping go in the garbage.

Plastic straws, plastic grocery bags, six-pack bottle rings and pizza boxes (or any material contaminated by food) are the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to what you put in your bin, as these items can never be recycled and contribute to the largest amount of system clogging and machinery failures.

To sum up, your individual contribution actually has the potential to matter more than you’d likely think, but if you want to recycle at all, you need to learn the rules first.

This article should not discourage you.

The system in place is inconvenient and confusing, but that is in part because the single-stream collection process has led people to try to recycle too much. This leads to more contamination which in turn leads the city to make residential bins less available and restrict individual contribution to options like the community drop-off located at 7923 Tom Dr.

If we clean up recycling on our end, it will certainly lead to less waste being thrown into landfills in and around our community, and it might lead the city to reconsider making more convenient options available again.

The Baton Rouge Recycling Office has a “state-mandated goal of 25% reduction in land-filled solid waste through design, implementation, management, and promotion of innovative waste reduction programs in East Baton Rouge Parish,” and currently, their margins are problematic.

I challenge anyone who’s reading this article (if you’ve gotten this far, you care enough to at least try) to read the proper rules, find one appropriate container, such as a paper bag or cardboard box, and try your best to collect every recyclable material that you would normally throw away for just one week.

It may surprise you to find out what all can be recycled, and you may find that it actually feels good to do something you would have thought would feel like a chore. Worst case scenario, drive one bag of items out to the drop off location and never do it again, but our community will be just a little bit better off for your contribution anyway.

Natalie Knox is a 23-year-old English senior from Lake Charles.

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