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DC residential recycling contamination rate drops

The city’s residential recycling contamination rate dropped from 33 percent in 2017 to 11 percent this year.

December 13, 2021

The District of Columbia Department of Public Works (DPW) and the administration of Mayor Muriel Bowser have announced that the city’s residential recycling contamination rate dropped from 33 percent roughly four years ago to 11 percent this year.

According to a news release from the city’s Department of Public Works, it attributes the decline in contamination to increased outreach to residents.

“Over the past four years, our education and outreach have been laser focused on making sure we show residents which items they should keep out of the recycling blue bins in order to reduce contamination, and we’ve seen fantastic results,” says DC’s Acting DPW Director Christine Davis. “In 2017, our residential recycling stream had a contamination rate of 33 percent, but this year, we’ve observed a rate averaging 11 percent. This indicates that we now have some of the cleanest residential recycling in the country.”

The DPW says it plans to continue recycling education outreach efforts focused on increasing recycling participation levels.

“While we’re doing a much better job of recycling right, we also want district residents who currently do not recycle to participate moving forward,” Davis says. “Today, we recycle around 50 million pounds of recyclables in DPW-issued blue recycling bins, and there’s roughly 45 million pounds of items we can recycle if diverted from our refuse stream.”

In mid-November, the department also launched an interactive story map called ArcGIS that provides a tour of how the residential recycling system works in DC as a new educational tool. The district also mailed postcards to the 105,000 households serviced by DC’s DPW to provide recycling guidelines.

According to DC’s DPW, the department received private grant funding from The Recycling Partnership, Falls Church, Virginia, to help design messaging tailored to DC residents.

“Through public-private partnerships, The Recycling Partnership is honored to partner with the district and communities nationwide to dramatically improve their residential recycling programs,” says Chris Coady, director of community programs at The Recycling Partnership. “When the district helps people recycle the right things in the right ways, it creates a cleaner, healthier community, protects the environment, supports local jobs, and provides a valuable supply of materials to be used in new products and packaging.”