Albuquerque educates residents on blue bins

Ten years ago New Mexico was recycling seven percent of its garbage. Now the state is at 16 percent — still far behind the national average of 34 percent.

Still, New Mexico is doing pretty well according to some.

“We are good with where we are in the southwest region,” said Sarah Pierport, interim executive director of the New Mexico Recycling Coalition. She said neighboring state, Colorado, is at a recycling rate of 12 percent.

According to a yearly report from Environment New Mexico, Bernalillo county, the state’s most populated county, has a 23 percent recycling rate. (Bernalillo includes Albuquerque, the state’s biggest city. ) This county rate has increased from the previous year by six percent

Blue recycling bin awaiting the recycling truck at Mirabal’s residence.

The credit for the increase goes to Albuquerque’s curbside recycling program, also known as the Blue Bins Project.Albuquerque residents were issued Blue Bins in 2011. The Albuquerque Solid Waste Department runs the program.   

“We did about 37,000 tons in the past year… It’s gone slightly up from prior years,” said Matthew Whelan, director of the Solid Waste Department.

Whelan said the focus is now on educating the public on what should go into the blue bins and what should not. To that end, the Solid Waste Department is running a “Recycle Right Campaign.”

According to Whelan, the frequently asked question by residents to the waste department is: What can I recycle? To help answer that, the Department created a smartphone app that shows what exactly residents can and cannot recycle.

“We have the recycle coach app…download that app and put your zip code in… type in any question, type in potato chip bag and it will tell you if it is or isn’t,” Whelan said.

The city’s curbside recycling program hauls the recyclable items picked from the blue bins and transfers them to Friedman Recycling, where the materials are processed and and shipped to markets for reuse and to be made into new products, Whelan said.

“However,when non-recyclables are placed in the blue bins the process is a bit different,” Whelan said.

The most common mistakes found by the Solid Waste Department when going through the blue bins are the non-recyclables such as plastic bags, scrap material, glass, yard waste and greasy pizza boxes.

Whelan said one of the biggest mistake residents are making when it comes to the curbside recycling is putting their recyclable items into a garbage bag. Because city employees don’t know what is in the bag, they are forced to throw the bag into the waste stream instead.

Hazardous wastes like paint, automotive fluids or car batteries should never go into the trash or Blue Bins. The city advises that any hazardous material be taken to the Advanced Chemical Transport.

Non-recyclables can contaminate the recyclables when incorrectly placed in the blue bin. City sorters in those cases will see what the they can salvage. The Solid Waste Department gives each load a contamination rate that lets them know whether the load can be recycled. This takes time and extra employees to sort through the recyclables.  

To expand recycling options beyond the limits of the Blue Bins, the city has free drop off locations for items such as glass and electronic devices, where they are then properly recycled.

Moving forward, the Solid Waste Department and the city of Albuquerque want to spread the word about recycling.

“We possibly want to work our way into neighborhood associations and possibly even working with APS (Albuquerque Public Schools),” Whelan said.

Destiny Munoz is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. She can be contacted on Twitter @destinyamunoz12

Kendra Mirabal is a reporter from the New Mexico News Port. She can be contacted on Twitter @kendramirabal