(Updated at 10:50 p.m.) Arlington County is trying to make its recycling service more efficient, and that means keeping items that don’t get recycled out of the stream.

In a pamphlet that’s being left for those served by the county’s waste collection contractor — mostly those in single-family homes — residents are urged to avoid putting “contaminants” in the blue recycling cart, even if they have a recycling logo.

What can be recycled can be simplified down to: (1) uncontaminated paper products, and (2) plastic and metal containers enclosed by bottle caps, lids or tabs.

A number of common materials are not usable by the company that processes Arlington’s recycling, and clutter the recycling stream before ultimately going to a landfill. According to pamphlet and other county guidance, those include:

  • Glass
  • Paper towels and greasy pizza boxes
  • Plastic bags including garbage bags (recyclables should be placed directly in the cart)
  • Plastic and padded envelopes, including those used by Amazon
  • To-go paper coffee cups, including Starbuck cups
  • Wrappers and single-use plastics like coffee lids, Solo cups and small yogurt containers
  • Foam containers and packing materials
  • Pots and pans

According to the pamphlet, the vast majority of what is recycled in Arlington — about 75% of material collected — is paper and cardboard. Metal items make up 5% and recyclable plastics are about 7%. The rest, as determined by a waste stream sort in the last quarter of 2020, is glass and other non-recyclable material.

Non-recyclable material in the recycling stream reduces the revenue the county receives from its recycling processor per ton of collected material, resulting in higher waste collection fees for residents, the pamphlet says. This spring the processor will examine a sample of the materials coming from Arlington to determine the rate the county will receive going forward.

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