Nearly 2,380 blue recycling bins were tagged for holding contaminates during a spot check program conducted for the Town of Cochrane late last year, and 24 were refused for collection.

The town's Waste and Recycling department hired Tetra Test Canada to complete a spot check in October and November 2020, during which 9,911 Cochrane households were visited.

Tags and information were attached to blue bins discovered to contain contaminates. A return visit to many of those households saw an improvement in sorting habits.

By far, placing loose plastic bags into bins was the number one offense, occurring in 41 per cent of those tagged. Bagged recycling was number two at 26 per cent, mixed material packaging accounted for 11 per cent, and all others accounted for a smaller piece of the pie.

Fabrizio Bertolo, Waste and Recycling manager, believes Cochranites widely support the program, and that it's largely a matter of continuing to improve upon the educational component.

"The contamination in the blue bins is not because people want to throw the wrong stuff in there, it's because 90 per cent of the time they don't know. So, we need to educate them on exactly what to do," he told town council on July 19.

He recommended continuing with the spot checks every two years to obtain baseline information and to create a better understanding of recycling separation.

Unlike a past spot check, there was no major pushback from the community. 

"When they saw the checkers checking their blue cart, they weren't complaining, they took the opportunity to ask questions," said Bertolo.

Better sorting will result in savings for Cochranites. A major shift has occurred in the recycling commodities market since China enacted its "National Sword" policy in 2018, effectively banning the import of most waste plastics and materials.

Creating replacement markets has proven to be been a struggle. As a result, contamination in loads of recyclables can cost up to three times what it would cost the town at the landfill and potentially impact future services costs.

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