Recycling Update: Why is the City of Saint Louis Stopping Recycling Collection?

Bob Henkel

A Blog By Bob Henkel,
Program Director, earthday365
314.282.7533 | bob@earthday-365.org

As shared at the Parks and Environmental Matters Committee Meeting of July 14, 2021 by Deputy Commissioner of Refuse, Randy Breitenfeld, the Saint Louis City is struggling with severe labor shortages. This is impacting their ability to keep dumpsters from overflowing. Apparently, they are short nearly 90 drivers, and have determined that they can only run one truck per route. This means that until they can hire enough drivers, recycling will no longer be separated from trash and will therefore be hauled in the trash truck and landfilled.

Update: The City has hired more drivers and hopes to have them trained and running routes sometime in December 2021.

So, if you want to recycle your materials in St. Louis City, there are 30 drop-off locations for you to take your recycling. Cart service is not affected and recycling will still be collected from households that utilize roll carts. This only applies to residential alley recycling dumpsters. Which also means, that businesses with recycling dumpsters will still be picked up by those private haulers to be recycled.

But remember, Stick with the SIX and if you have other materials that should not go in the single-stream recycling, check out this database at www.STLCityRecycles.com for the best information about proper recycling in the St. Louis region.

Mr. Breitenfeld also shared that the recycling rates in the city have been abysmal with about 50% of collected recycling being landfilled immediately due to contamination from non-recyclable items and an additional 20% being rejected by the Republic Services materials recovery facility. Therefore, 30% of all collected recycling has actually been getting recycled in the City of St. Louis. Rates in St. Louis County are much better — nearly 75% or more is recycled in some jurisdictions.

Why does this happen?

  1. There is little to no ability to have personal accountability of what people put into alley dumpsters.
  2. Illegal dumping in recycling dumpsters of non-acceptable materials like construction waste, furniture, and during the fall hunting season, deer carcasses.
  3. Residents think that every type of plastic and paper products are recyclable in single stream curbside recycling. Styrofoam is not. Plastic Bags are not. Zipties, Ziploc bags, candy wrappers, and plastic utensils are not. Paper cups and food soiled paper containers are not. Black plastic containers are not.

Is it worth it to recycle anymore?

Yes it is, but only if all of the other parts of the waste reduction ecosystem are functioning. Recycling, when done correctly, is still seen as one of the top 100 solutions to climate change so it is still very important that we do our part.

What are those parts of the waste reduction system?

  • Reducing consumption of disposables in the first place
    • Use Reusables
    •  Have corporations take more responsibility for handling the end of life of their products rather than letting the earth and individual residents take the brunt of the waste disposal.
    • Making new products with recycled content
    • Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act
  • Purchase products that have recycled content
  • Actually recycling properly what the Recycling Hauling companies want
    •  Stick with the Six – link for St. Louis regional recycling information
    •  Personal accountability is needed to provide needed educational feedback about materials found in recycling containers that don’t belong there. Those with cart service for their residence can be most easily informed when they “Oops” the wrong items in the cart.
  •  Having the labor force to collect, haul, sort, bale and ship materials to manufacturers
  •  Having markets for materials like paper, aluminum, steel, glass, and plastics

In the Midwest region of the United States, there are good markets for our local recyclers to move collected materials. This is not so for many businesses on the coasts like California and you get stories like this one saying recycling is not working: NPR video story, April 21, 2021.

Collected material that goes through the Hazelwood and South County Republic Services Material Recovery Facilities DOES Get captured and recycled.

So, if you live in St. Louis City, work together with neighbors to drop off recycling at one of 30 drop-off locations.

And always Stick with the SIX and keep it loose, clean, and dry.

Questions? You can contact us at info@earthday-365.org.

www.STLCityRecycles.com is the region-wide resource for recycling information as is www.recycleresponsibly.org the regional campaign we worked on to reduce plastic bags in recycling. It was working! Until the pandemic and people put plastic bags back into their containers, and contamination rates overall have skyrocketed. That didn’t get mentioned in the blog. Neither did I mention that of the 30 collection sites, some have 1 container and others have 10 depending on the neighborhood or that there are fewer sites in North City than in south city. Nor did I mention that Kirkwood Greentree Festival did not have recycling available. Recycling On the Go was short-staffed and couldn’t commit labor so apparently, it didn’t happen; IN KIRKWOOD!

Recycling is not going to get any more traction until people are valued and that means having childcare, access to good housing, healthy food and jobs.

Why should someone care? that’s in the blog as well: still seen as one of the “top 100 solutions to climate change”.