By Sandra Keil on Feb 14, 2011

Earth911 Staffer Reveals Her Recycling Faux Pas


Sandra Keil, vice president of Government Relations & Industry Affairs for Earth911, is an expert in recycling, but a recent mishap in her curbside program proved that even the greenest of homeowners can still easily make costly mistakes. Here’s her story…

In some curbside programs, paper products should be put into a separate bag to avoid contamination. (Stock Photo)

Having worked for Earth911 for the past 4 years, I have become what I consider, well versed in recycling. An expert if you will. I meet with companies such as Coca-Cola and ExxonMobil to support them in the recycling and proper disposal of the products they produce.

I speak at conferences, in front of large audiences and never miss an opportunity encourage at best – or shame at worst – people into recycling. My friends call and ask, “Can I recycle my pizza box?” and then I get all warm inside as they look to me for guidance in their quest to become better recyclers.

[search type=”recycling” what=”paper” whatlabel=”paper”]

Late last Sunday night I arrived home after 10 days of nonstop travel from D.C., to Charlotte, to Atlanta, to Orlando, to Phoenix, to Salt Lake City and finally back to D.C., all in the name of spreading the good word on recycling (and an attempt at snowboarding one day). You can imagine my shock and horror as I arrived to find a letter from my homeowners association accusing me of violating our recycling procedures.

In fact, my violations were so abhorrent that if I were caught again, I would be fined $50 per offense! Included was a brief synopsis of the correct procedures with a disclaimer that “The rules take up several pages on the website and so are too lengthy to reproduce here.”

Come to find out, my grievous offense was that I was putting the paper inside the recycle bin! The proper way to recycle paper in my curbside program is to not put paper inside the bin, but rather put it next to the bin and “weigh it down to prevent it from being blown throughout our community.”

In June, I moved to this community from an adjacent town three miles away. In my old community, I was supposed to put the paper inside the bin.

In my arrogance and what I considered superior knowledge of recycling, I did not think to check my community website – or even Earth911.com for that matter – to see if my new curbside program required any special handling. For eight months I had been putting my paper in the bin and as the letter states “doing so makes extra work for XXX’s crew and could lead to an extra charge to the community.”

I have been humbled and wanted to take this opportunity to remind us all to periodically check our curbside rules and make sure we are putting the right things in the bins and the right things on the side of the bins.

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      • Gretchen

        Just a tad bit on the ridiculous side, I might say. “Egregious”?! $50 fine?! Extra work?! Whatever. Apparently it’s harder to pick up papers from a bin than remove something weighing them down. WOW.

      • Ashlee

        Do you have to clean out aluminum cans before recycling them? Or do recycling centers not care either way?