The material collected on campus and at the Drop-Off center is processed in our MSU Material Recovery Facility (MRF), where it's prepared for sale to manufacturers in the region. Those manufacturers rely on, and in fact, require that the recyclables we send to them are clean and relatively free of contaminants. When bins are contaminated, it causes consequences for manufacturers and MSU. Contaminants are anything that is mixed in a recycling bin that shouldn’t be there.
Types of Contamination
- Improperly prepared recyclables:
- Not rinsed -- i.e., ketchup left in a plastic bottle
- Not separated -- i.e., Styrofoam left in a shipping box and recycled in the cardboard bin
- Non-accepted items, such as:
- Aerosol cans or propane tanks in the metal bin
- Tissues, napkins or paper towel in the mixed paper bin
Contaminants can cause impurities in manufacturers' products or damage equipment. For this reason, a manufacturer will reject loads of recyclables that contain too many contaminants. In these situations, bales of recyclable materials are sent back to the MRF to be re-sorted, a costly process.
For MRFs like ours at MSU, contamination is particularly difficult since our materials are sorted by hand. That dirty salad dressing bottle or unaccepted piece of Styrofoam must be pulled out of the recycling stream by one of our staff, which increases labor costs. Plus, we must pay the cost to dispose of the contaminants properly, including collecting, transporting and paying to dispose of them at the landfill.
Probably the most important reason to recycle right is that contaminants can be hazardous to our staff. Remember that time you didn’t rinse out the milk jug before recycling? By the time we collect it and begin hand-sorting, it will be smelling ripe, probably contain mold and can harbor bacteria. Flammable items are extremely dangerous and are more common than we'd like to believe. Remember the cannonball incident?
Especially in this time of Covid-19, it is particularly important that you recycle correctly to protect the health and safety of our staff, help us reduce costs and provide high-quality recycled material for manufacturers to use. Please make sure all your bottles and jugs are rinsed clean and that you recycle right by consulting our guidelines.