Increasing trash in Bakersfield’s recycling stream could raise costs

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Increasing volumes of trash in Bakersfield’s recycling stream could raise the price you pay for the service.

China used to take in 60 percent of the world’s recycling. Earlier this year, they sharply limited the kinds and quantity they accept from the U.S., and they stopped paying for it.

Bakersfield used to sell its recyclables to sorting centers for $60 a ton. Now, due to market changes, the city must pay $70 a ton – absorbing $750,000 in losses so far.

But China’s restrictions aren’t the only factor in this problem. Experts say we as residents also contribute.

“Everyone plays a part because everyone can choose whether they follow the directions or not,” said Kevin Barnes, Bakersfield’s solid waste director.

Each year, the city sends out a comprehensive – and lengthy – list of directions of what can and can’t be recycled. Many misconceptions of what can go into the blue bins include cardboard and plastic that are dirty.

“We ask that (you) keep things clean. Don’t put the wrong things in there because that would only add to the overburden of materials that have to be rejected and landfilled,” Barnes explained.

There’s a growing trend of treating blue bins like trash cans. In 2011, trash made up about 18 percent of the recycling stream. Today, it’s at 40 percent.

“If it’s dirty, we can’t use it. We have to take it to the dump. We have to pay to deliver it there, then pay once (we) get there,” said Jim Baldwin, the president of BARC, one of the recycling processing centers in Bakersfield.

There’s also a notion of ‘aspirational recycling,’ recycling items you think or hope are recyclable, but aren’t.

China aside, Baldwin says, if we don’t correct our recycling habits, curbside collection fees could go up.

Right now, Bakersfield residents pay $207 a year. With current trends, Barnes estimates rates could increase up to $3 each month. The city will decide how much to raise these prices next spring.

However, both Barnes and Baldwin say we can stop these costs from going up if we’re just more careful about what we put into blue bins.

Along with raising curbside collection fees, City Public Works is discussing other options to save the recycling program – including more restriction on recyclables, or even closing the recycling program altogether.

They’ll discuss these decisions at the Bakersfield City Council meeting next month.

Click here for a full list of what can and can’t be recycled.

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