These are just some of the findings from the Knoxville Curbside Recycling Audit 2022 report, based on city and WestRock staff hand-sorting through 625 pounds of plastics, cardboard, paper, metal and non-recyclable trash.
Why is it important that only recyclable materials get placed into the pickup carts?
Patience Melnik, the City’s Waste and Resources Manager, said it’s important to remember that recycling is a business — albeit one that has real benefits for our environment.
“We keep recycling viable for our community when we work together to produce clean, salable materials that regional manufacturers want to buy and repurpose,” she said.
“Wish-cycling” — tossing something into the cart in the hope that, maybe, it can be recycled — downgrades the value of materials, and in some cases, it’s actually detrimental to the system. Plastic grocery or retail store bags, for example, are not recyclable in the curbside cart and can tangle and shut down the sorting-line equipment.
“This Feb. 11 audit of the recycling stream verified what we’ve always known anecdotally — that Knoxvillians are knowledgeable and motivated when it comes to recycling,” Melnik said.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t improve. And we certainly welcome more households to join the free curbside recycling program.”
Due largely to the popularity of online shopping, more than half of what’s residentially recycled is cardboard (52.2 percent). The second-most-common recyclable is mixed paper (13.6 percent), followed by plastics (10.8 percent), steel (3.6 percent) and aluminum (3 percent).
Glass is no longer accepted in the curbside recycling program, and residents have gotten the word that there are better ways to recycle bottles and jars. Glass accounts for just 0.5 percent of collected material.
Glass in a single-stream curbside collection process shatters into slivers and small particles that contaminate other recyclables, downgrading their quality and market value. So Knoxville, like many communities, presorts glass before recycling so it doesn’t have to travel down the sorting line with other recyclable materials. Residents are encouraged to take glass to any of the five city recycling centers.
“This audit helps us pinpoint which additional conversations with residents might be helpful,” Melnik said. “Plastic film, plastic bags, paper towels and food waste were common contaminants that were collected along with recyclables.
“If there’s one take-away, it would be: Keep recyclables loose and don’t bag them. Plastic shopping bags are a real no-no. They can harm the sorting equipment and contaminate the bales of recyclable plastics.”
If you’re not one of the record number of households that recycles at the curbside, sign up today! It’s free. Call 3-1-1 or visit www.knoxvilletn.gov/recycling and click on the “Sign Up for Curbside Recycling” green tab.