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Recycling 101: What to toss as alley pickups resume in St. Louis

Workers sort recycling at a conveyor belt at Resource Management's processing facility in 2015.
Veronique LaCapra
St. Louis Public Radio
Workers at a conveyor belt at Resource Management's processing facility.

After nearly a year without alleyway recycling pickups in St. Louis, Mayor Tishaura Jones promises to resurrect the service this month.

Persistent mechanic and driver shortages have stalled plans to resume recycling services in recent months. Dedicated recyclers relied on 25 designated drop-off locations.

Jones said she plans to use federal coronavirus aid to boost incentives to attract new hires.

Here’s what goes where as alley pickups resume in St. Louis

“When we restart alleyway recycling collection in May, we must retain the workforce we need to keep it going,” she said during her State of the City speech on April 19. Jones declined to give an exact date when the pickups will resume.

Once they do, Republic Services will process that recycling. Currently, around 90% of Republic Services’ recycling stays in the Midwest to be either converted into something new or go to a landfill, said Earthday365 Program Director Bob Henkel. He said the company has made a commitment to avoid exporting recycling internationally.

Henkel joined Monday’s St. Louis on the Air to give a refresher course and explain how people can be more intentional about recycling.

“We want recycling to be the same as trash service in which we just want to throw it away and let somebody else deal with it,” Henkel said. “[But] the recycling system isn't anywhere near the same as trash service.”

Recycling 101 

  • Stick with the six,” which includes: flattened cardboard, paper, plastic bottles and containers, glass bottles and jars, metal cans and food cartons. These containers should all be empty, clean and dry. For other items, check out St. Louis City Recycles’ extended list of materials you can and can’t recycle.
  • Paper that shouldn’t be recycled includes paper towels, toilet paper and facial tissues like Kleenex.
  • Break down all cardboard boxes to allow for more room in the bins. Also, keep in mind most packaging within cardboard boxes (including Styrofoam, elastic ties and bubble wrap) is not recyclable. 
  • Keep plastic bags out of your recycling bin. Plastic bags and other flexible plastics get trapped in gears at recycling service centers, halt operations and put workers in danger. 
  • Most important, limit your consumption and cut back on one-time-use items and plastic.
  • If you’re not sure about an item, don’t feel guilty about putting it in the trash bin. Better for it to end up in a landfill than to contaminate the entire recycle bin, Henkel said. “Thinking of the whole system might be a way to approach ‘how do I deal with this particular issue in my hand,’” he suggested.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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