Serge Maslennikov was used to gathering his recycling items in a blue plastic bag, which was picked up by the city every week. But a month ago, that changed.

Those bags are no longer accepted, and his recycling must now be placed in a bin.

As Maslennikov, a Philadelphia resident of more than 15 years, explained via Curious Philly, the forum through which our journalists respond to your questions, Philadelphians are concerned that trash days result in street contamination, and they don’t know how to prevent the litter.

“If [recycling] is in a can, there is a possibility that it is going to be knocked over by somebody, knocked over by the wind, and it is going to be all over the street,” Maslennikov said.

Philly’s new initiative: Recycling bins with lids

To curb that litter, the city began distributing lidded recycling bins in April as part of the Philadelphia Streets Department’s new recycling campaign, focused on educating people about what is acceptable for recycling and preventing contamination from unacceptable materials.

Providing lids for recycling bins stems from a city case study conducted from August 2017 to May 2018, said Kyle Lewis, the department’s recycling program director. In addition, he said, some residents complained about not having lids for their bins.

The case study tested if lidded recycling bins could reduce litter and boost recycling volume. During the study, recycling bins with lids were distributed on two recycling routes in Port Richmond and Brewerytown. Household surveys reported positive feedback.

“We began to use the lids partially as a result of that study, and partially recognizing the need to cut down on litter and the idea that materials can blow around on a windy day,” Lewis said.

A new lidded recycling bin.
Kyle Lewis
A new lidded recycling bin.

How to get a recycling bin or lid

City-distributed recycling bins and lids are available from any of Philly’s six Sanitation Convenience Centers. The lids, which are not attached to the bins, can also be used by Philadelphians who already have a recycling bin.

Philadelphians need to register online to request a replacement bin or to get their first bin. Residents can also obtain their own recycling bin, which must be less than 32 gallons and have a recycling logo.

How to keep your lid attached to your bin

Using zip ties to attach lids to recycling bins is an easy solution to worries that bins with unattached lids — or no lids at all — could increase litter and contamination.

The Bella Vista Neighbors Association started doing that in April 2018.

Ali Perelman, chair of the association’s beautification committee, said that “everyone is just hoping we can reduce litter in the city, and I think the lids are a pretty easy way to eliminate that one source of litter: stuff that gets blown away from the recycling bin if they are uncovered.”

If plastic bags are a recyclable item, why can’t they be used anymore?

Previously, blue plastic bags were picked up for curbside recycling because a contamination rate of 3 percent was acceptable.

But new stringent standards set by recycling processors now only allow a 0.5 percent contamination rate in recycling materials.

Since Philadelphia’s recyclables had a contamination rate of about 15 percent to 20 percent, from October of last year to May of this year, only half of Philadelphia’s recycling was actually recycled and sent to a materials-recovery facility. Meanwhile, the other half was sent to a an incinerator at a waste-for-energy plant.

Lewis explained that since blue plastic recycling bags are large contributors to the contamination, they can no longer be collected for curbside recycling, and they require a completely different recycling process than other curbside items. This change has allowed the city to send all its recycling to a materials-recovery facility since May of this year.

What else is being done to curb recycling litter?

Lewis said other measures to clean up include sending SWEEP officers to dirty streets and encouraging citizens to pick up litter.

The Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee has weekly cleanups, and the city is has launched a street cleaning pilot.

What can be recycled in curbside recycling?

The Streets Department has guidelines on the items that can be placed in curbside recycling bins. Plastic, carton, metal, and glass items, including food containers, bottles, aluminum foil, tin cans, aluminum baking dishes, milk cartons, and jars must be emptied and rinsed.

Egg cartons, shipping boxes, pizza boxes, paper towel rolls, and other cardboard items should be emptied before placed in a recycling bin.