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‘Oops!’ Don’t Put Plastic Bags in That Blue Recycling Cart!

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Three boxes were checked signifying incorrect items in this blue recycling bin. (GV Wire/NancyPrice)
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Even though we should already know what goes in the blue, green, and gray waste and recycling carts, we still have those “oops!” moments.

Oops! Plastic grocery bags say they can be recycled — but not in the blue recycling bin.

Oops! The dog’s poop ended up in the green yard waste bin.

Oops! That empty peanut butter jar got tossed into the gray trash bin.

Placards Remind Residents What Goes Where

The city of Fresno’s recycling department hopes we can have fewer and fewer “oops” moments, especially with new, state-required composting rules taking effect here soon.

Several waste carts were tagged with the “Oops” placard last week on one northeast Fresno street. (GV Wire/Nancy Price)

So recycling compliance staffers have been roaming around neighborhoods, flipping lids, and then leaving gentle reminders — the “Oops” placard — to let residents know what belongs where.

And yes, the city is keeping track of who gets the placard. But it’s for informative purposes, not punitive, says Ahmad Alkhayyat, assistant director of public utilities in the solid waste division.

When compliance team members are peeking into bins, it’s to find out “what’s the percentage of compliance or lack of,” he said. “We are in the research and development period as we speak.

“We really need to have some data. Data is good for us to target certain behaviors.”

The city will kick up its outreach campaign starting in July, and it will be helpful to know which neighborhoods to target with information campaigns, he said.

The “Oops” placards were designed specifically to look cartoonish so that residents who find one on their cart will not feel threatened and will realize they are meant to be educational, Alkhayyat said.

Items most seen in the wrong bins (such as plastic bags and styrofoam) have check-off boxes on the placards. Likewise, the placard contains check-off boxes for green waste cart no-nos.

Putting items in the correct bins means spending less money to separate items at waste and recycling centers, which can lower costs for customers over the long run.

Enforcement on The Horizon

After the city implements the composting rules required in Senate Bill 1383 — Fresno got a waiver from the state to delay implementation until 2023 so the city could revise contracts with its waste and recycling handlers — education efforts will at some point transition to enforcement efforts, Alkhayyat said.

The goal of SB 1383 is to reduce the amount of food waste and other compostable or recyclable materials that are now winding up in landfills.

Under the law, the state is asking agencies to cite customers for noncompliance with recycling and composting rules, he said.

The city hasn’t yet established its process yet, but it will likely involve at least one warning before a citation is issued, Alkhayyat said.

“But before that, we do a huge education campaign,” he said.

Some Recycling Reminders

So where do plastic grocery bags go? Back to grocery stores, where there is usually a recycling bin.

And what about having to clean out food waste from plastic or metal containers so they don’t gum out recycling machinery? Alkhayyat says residents shouldn’t use our precious supply of water to rinse out containers. Scrape out as much as you can, and then recycle the container, he said.

 

Fresno’s “Oops” placards are showing up on carts across the city. (City of Fresno)

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email