What Contaminates Your Recyclables?

Recycling Explained

First, let’s discuss how a single-stream recycling facility works:

At Millennium,  waste haulers pick up mixed recyclables from your home or business and bring them to our facility. We use automated equipment to sort out recyclable material and separate it into categories including plastic containers, paper, cardboard, glass and metal cans. Our equipment automatically identifies these categories and separates them out.

Anything that is NOT recognized by the equipment is considered “contamination” and must be pulled out manually before it can damage equipment or contaminate good material. The sorted recyclable materials are then sent to specialized end-processors who make them into new packaging or products.

What is “Contamination”?

Contamination is the stuff that shouldn’t be put in a recycling bin. It doesn’t fall under any of the accepted single-stream categories and includes things like food, plastic bags, liquids, dishes, syringes, dirt, leaves, diapers, clothes, wood, rope… the list goes on and on. Because our recycling equipment only identifies and separates the accepted categories, anything not on the YES list must be removed by hand, creating a lot more work for our team and potentially contaminating the recyclable items.

When end-processors take the sorted material, they don’t want any other stuff mixed in. If they need paper to make their new product, they only want paper. Most end-processors have a very low tolerance for anything that doesn’t belong, as it will take more work to clean it up and get it ready for processing. If there is too much contamination, they put a lower value on the material, or even reject it all together. So it’s our job to make sure we only send them the right materials.

To ensure we send them clean, non-contaminated loads, we keep our accepted list very simple. This helps us meet the requirements set by our end-processors and reduces contamination. We also take community education very seriously. Our education team posts blogs, shares tips on social media, provides facility tours, give presentations, offers business Waste Stream Reviews, and customer support for waste haulers.

Why Can’t We Just Recycle it All??

The single-stream process is set up to sort out very specific categories that are generated in large amounts from households. Our equipment can only identify these items, and our end-processors are only specialized to process these materials… BUT, just because you can’t put something in the mixed recycling bin doesn’t mean it can’t be recycled.

It may take some extra work on your end, but many different programs work together to divert materials from the landfill. Your mixed recycling bin is just a piece of the puzzle. Use our disposal search tool to find the right option for items that are not accepted in your bin, like wood, scrap metal, clothes, toys, etc. If you are serious about recycling, please be serious about using the right recycling outlet to ensure it actually gets recycled and help the process be successful (not hurt it).

Education is Key

If education is not done correctly, contamination can be a big problem. At Millennium, we continually work to improve our sorting process, support our customers, and educate our community on what can be recycled. We have found that the better the education is, the less contamination exists. We are proud to say that our “residual rate” (the percentage of materials that get landfilled vs. recycled) is consistently less than 5% at our facility!

Thank you for helping us keep the process moving by only recycling the yes items. To learn what you can recycle in your mixed bin, check out the Sioux Falls recycling guide.