DC’s List of Recyclable Items Expands, but Plastic Bags are Out!

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DC Department of Public Works celebrates expanded recycling in the District. Photo: DPW

Confused by what can and can’t be recycled? Does the list of “acceptable” recyclables at your workplace differ from what the DC Department of Public Works (DPW) says can be recycled in your home bin?

Relax. DC is making recycling easier, and working toward “zero waste.” The District has launched two new initiatives this fall that promise to make recycling and waste reduction easier and clearer.

The Mayor’s List of Recyclables: Standardizing Recycling Across DC
On Oct. 5, DPW, the Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE), and the Department of General Services (DGS) came together to announce an expanded and standardized list of recyclable items in the District. Now, in addition to paper, metal, cartons, and glass, you can recycle pizza boxes, paper and plastic plates, cups, lids, to-go food containers, plastic produce, and deli and bakery containers and trays.

All of these items can be placed directly into the blue recycling bins that the District issues to single-family residences. DC Public Schools are also getting in on the program.

The Mayor’s List will be reviewed and updated every two years to keep on top of recycling trends and advances.

While the list mostly expands the items that can be recycled, there are some exceptions. Plastic bags are no longer accepted in DC recycling as they tend to clog and halt recycling facility equipment. This means that recyclables should be placed directly into the blue bins – not placed in plastic bags first. Annie White, manager of the DPW Office of Waste Diversion, notes, “Most supermarkets accept plastic bags for recycling, and that’s the best place to recycle them.”

The District is asking all residents living in single-family homes or buildings with three or fewer units to comply with the Mayor’s List of Recyclables. According to DPW, effective Jan. 1, 2018, commercial properties including multi-family dwellings, office buildings, and restaurants will be required to recycle this full suite of materials.

A New Website Answers Recycling and Waste Disposal Questions
Further to answer questions about waste disposal, the District has launched a new website, www.zerowaste.dc.gov, a one-stop resource for residents, businesses, and schools to learn about what can (and cannot) be recycled, composting options, waste reduction suggestions, and hazardous waste disposal opportunities.

Christopher Shorter, DPW’s director, noted, “We’re very proud of this website as it provides a wealth of information on proper waste disposal and reduction. There’s even downloadable signage in seven languages that can be printed to help clarify what is recyclable.” ZeroWasteDC also maintains a Facebook page and a Twitter account where residents can pose questions about recycling. Even canning lids are recyclable. Who knew?

But what does “Zero Waste” mean and why is there so much talk about it these days? The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) defines zero waste as “efforts to reduce solid waste generation to nothing, or as close to nothing as possible, by minimizing excess consumption and maximizing the recovery of solid wastes through recycling and composting.”

While aspirations of true zero waste may be noble, they’re readily recognized as impractical at a large scale. As cities develop their zero waste goals, for most this means diverting 80-90 percent of waste away from landfills and incineration that produce methane and other harmful greenhouse gases. A combination of recycling, food recovery (ensuring that good food is distributed to others), and composting of food and yard waste makes these goals feasible.

Per the Sustainable DC plan, DC has a goal of diverting 80 percent of its waste away from landfills and incineration by 2032. The District’s “Solid Waste Diversion Report” published in 2016 found a citywide residential diversion rate (waste diverted from landfills and incineration) of 20.96 percent.

Tommy Wells, DOEE’s director, noted, “We have work ahead of us to reach that 80 percent goal, but with DC’s bag fee, Compostable and Recyclable Food Service Ware Requirements, along with the expanded list of recyclables and a growing composting program, I’m confident we’re going to get there.” Then the confusion over recycling will be a thing of the past.

 

Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and a blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter @DC_Recycler. She is also a board member of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club and of Green America, but her perspectives are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of either organization.