OP-ED

Good news on recycling front for Rhode Islanders

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In the past year, recycling has certainly made headlines. Stories of China’s outright rejection of trash-laden U.S. recyclables have peppered national news. Our neighbors in Massachusetts have grappled with special permits, allowing them to incinerate or bury recyclables they can’t sell. Here at home, your city or town may be dealing with fees from loads rejected at the state’s Materials Recycling Facility. You may have even received news curbside, in the form of a violation tag on your recycling bin or cart.

Before you throw in the towel, I have some good news and then some more good news to share. First, Rhode Island is in better shape than many and we’ve been able to continuously get our materials reused and recycled. We’ve invested in new equipment, made operational changes to improve sorting, worked with municipalities to implement curbside feedback, and launched a statewide educational campaign. Second, in order to keep the system working, you, the resident, need only learn and follow RI’s most basic recycling rules.

As someone tasked with educating Rhode Islanders about managing their materials properly, I’ll be the first to admit that being a perfect recycler is hard. There are a gazillion items out there, many are labeled with misleading or patently false recyclability claims, and up until recently, every last recycling bin was labeled differently. Added together, these things clearly explain why people are often confused, and why so much trash is winding up in recycling bins.

I’m happy to report that Rhode Island is working diligently to change this. In partnership with the national non-profit, Recycle Across America, Rhode Island became the first state to adopt a standardized recycling bin label. The label displays only the most basic, mission-critical recycling rules. Maybe you’ve seen them at one of the 300 locations in the state where they are already in place? Maybe you received a paper copy in the mail? Maybe you’ve seen them advertised on the web, social media, or on the side of a RIPTA bus? Slowly but surely, we hope you’ll see them everywhere.

Here’s the basic information, as seen on that label. The only four things accepted in RI’s mixed recycling program are:

1. Paper, cardboard (flattened) and cartons

2. Metal cans, lids and foil

3. Glass bottles and jars

4. Plastic containers

That’s it, Rhode Island. Please don’t place anything else made of natural fibers, metal, glass, or plastic in your mixed recycling bin or cart. Nothing else qualifies.

And here are the two essential directives as seen on that label, too:

1. Containers must be empty at a minimum, but rinsed whenever possible

2. No plastic bags (including no recycling set out inside of plastic bags)

Remember these four things and two tips, apply them in good faith, and our award-winning Materials Recycling Facility can take it from there. Want a little more information to take your recycling from good to great? Simply visit us at www.rirrc.org/mixed-recycling.

Krystal Noiseux is the Education and Outreach Manager for the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, where she oversees statewide education on waste reduction, reuse, recycling, composting, and proper disposal.

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