Yogurt cups once again can go in Sacramento city recycling after brief ban

Sacramento has once again changed its recycling rules to accept more items.
Sacramento has once again changed its recycling rules to accept more items. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Yogurt cups, bottle caps and plastic sauce containers can once again go into blue recycling bins, after a brief ban this summer by the city of Sacramento.

Last June, Sacramento announced recycling restrictions on certain items, asking residents to throw some plastics into the trash rather than recycling them. In November, the city reversed that decision.

The ban was instituted when Waste Management — the company that provides the city’s recycling services — told city officials it may stop recycling plastics that are stamped with a 4-7 in the recycling triangle icon because they are harder to reuse and find markets for resale.

Most plastic items contain a number inside of a recycling symbol ranging from 1 to 7. The number is a code identifying the type of plastic used to manufacture the container. Lower numbers indicate an item that is easy to recycle, while containers with higher numbers have fewer options for a second life.

Officials in the city’s Recycling and Solid Waste division made the call to limit recycling because they wanted the city’s recycling to stay valuable and uncontaminated, said Erin Treadwell, division spokeswoman. The city was worried Waste Management would count the 4-7 items as “contaminants,” which could mean the city would have to pay the company more, and could mean higher rates for residents, Treadwell said.

Residents were not pleased. Many called the city or wrote on social media, threatening to stop recycling altogether, Treadwell said. That wasn’t the result the city wanted.

If enough residents started stopped recycling all together, it could also cause the city to pay more to Waste Management, Treadwell said. The change didn’t last long enough for the city to see higher bills, but the city did not want to risk it.

“It wasn’t getting to a critical point yet, but we kept anecdotally hearing that (people stopped recycling),” Treadwell said.

In addition, Waste Management has now found new markets in multiple countries for the 4-7 plastics, said Paul Rosynsky, a company spokesman.

It’s very important the plastics are clean though, Rosynsky said.

The Chinese government, which receives most West Coast recyclables, began rejecting shipments in summer 2017 that contained even small amounts of garbage. The government is also cutting down on the amount of paper it imports, which is also harder to reuse.

The city also told residents in June to stop putting shredded paper in the recycling bin — a directive that’s still in place, Treadwell said.

As far as Treadwell knows, Sacramento is the only California city that sent out such a memo, though officials from other cities were calling, saying they were considering following suit, she said.

Sacramento County, which also contracts with Waste Management, never told residents to stop putting certain plastics in the bin, creating confusion.

The city last week launched a media campaign to educate people about the different types of plastics, and why those marked 1 and 2 are most valuable, Treadwell said.

“We want to make folks more aware,” Treadwell said. “It’s not easy. You have to be a little more mindful and a little more engaged in living a sustainable life. It’s not just as easy as throwing plastic in a blue bin.”

For more information, visit www.SortSmart.org.

This article was updated Dec. 6 to remove bubble wrap and snack bags as items that can be recycled. Those items cannot be recycled in the city of Sacramento.