DPW Launches “Feet on the Street” Educational Campaign to Reduce Recycling Contamination

Green banner with DPW logo and text "Department of Public Works Press Release"

Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW) is launching the Feet on the Street recycling campaign to educate residents about what items to keep out of their recycling containers, especially plastic bags, films and wraps. Over the next two months, DPW sanitation workers will check and tag recycling containers in neighborhoods where collection crews have observed high contamination.

When collection crews observe something in a recycling cart that does not belong, an “Oops” tag will be placed on the container. The informational “Oops” tag will give residents instant feedback, reminding them to keep out plastic bags, food-covered items, paper towels/napkins, carry out containers, and tanglers (i.e., garden hoses, wires, electrical cords). Plastic-bagged recyclables account for most of the City's recycling contaminants.

“Now more than ever, recycling right is essential to the operation of DPW’s recycling collection program,” said DPW Director Jason W. Mitchell. “Residents knowing what does and does not belong in containers will help to reduce the City’s rate of recycling contamination and maximize the effectiveness of the City’s distribution of residential recycling carts and shift to bi-weekly recycling collections.”

The Feet on the Street program is developed by the circular economy national nonprofit The Recycling Partnership, which helps communities achieve economically efficient recycling programs, reduces the number of new resources used in packaging, and improves the health of communities.

“The Feet on the Street program works by giving residents instant feedback on what is and is not recyclable,” said Keysha Burton, Community Programs Manager at The Recycling Partnership. “Through this personalized and real-time feedback loop, we are helping Baltimore City capture more quality recyclables that are then transformed into new materials, creating a more circular economy, a less wasteful planet, and stronger, healthier communities.”

The Recycling Partnership has successfully implemented this program in 80 communities across the country, with some communities seeing a 57% decrease of nonrecyclables in recycling and a 27% increase in the overall capture of quality recyclables. 

In September 2021, DPW started distributing free 65-gallon rolling, lidded recycling carts to Baltimore City households eligible for curbside recycling collections. To date, nearly all eligible households have received a recycling cart. The recycling carts were made available free of charge to Baltimore residents thanks to a first-of-its-kind, public-private partnership that includes The Recycling Partnership, Baltimore Civic Fund, and Closed Loop Partners.

 Recycling Do’s and Don’ts

The biggest recycling contamination challenge for Baltimore is disposing of plastic bags, films and wraps in the cart or placing plastic bags filled with recycling out for collection. Contaminated recycling increases the City’s recycling processing costs and can cause equipment jams at recycling processing facilities, creating hazards for recycling facility workers.

“The best way to reduce the City’s recycling contamination rate is to keep plastic bags out of recycling containers,” DPW Director Mitchell said. “Don’t use plastic bags as your recycling containers, and please don’t dispose of plastic grocery bags and plastic films in your containers.”

Additional sources of contamination include clamshell containers, Styrofoam, and bottles and jars that are not empty or clean, tanglers (i.e., electrical cords, hoses, Christmas lights), and clothing.

When preparing recycling for collection, residents are reminded to:

·      Place clean and empty recyclables in the cart

·      Leave recyclables loose in the cart

·      Do not bag items

To make sure the right items are placed in recycling carts, residents are encouraged to review the DPW recycling guide and the  Recycle Right web feature.


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