The following items are currently not recyclable in the city of Memphis: dish soap bottles, plastic straws, medicine bottles, shopping bags, CD cases, and plastic bottle caps.
But within the next year, city officials hope to expand the recycling program to accept all coded plastics. The new program would also allow residents to mix paper and plastics together without having to sort, and eventually residents may receive larger recycling bins.
"Once implemented, residents will be able to recycle more materials and will be able to divert more from the landfill. And hopefully, the city can generate more revenue," said Andy Ashford, administrator of recycling and composting for the city of Memphis.
The city's recycling processor, Re-community, is undergoing a $4 million upgrade to its facility, which will convert the facility from a dual-stream recycling center to a single-stream center.
The dual-stream method, which is what the city has now, means workers on recycling trucks must separate plastics and glass from paper and cardboard by feeding the materials into separate bins on the truck. That's why residents are currently required to separate paper from plastics and glass in their bins.
Once the city moves to single-stream recycling, residents will no longer be required to separate materials, and workers will be able to use rear loader trucks, such as garbage trucks, where everything is mixed together.
The city is holding out on buying new recycling trucks since the new single-stream method would mean they could have hand-me-down garbage trucks instead.
"The old dual-stream trucks that we bought in 1999 are simply falling apart, but we don't want to run out and buy special two-compartment trucks that we won't need in a year or so," Ashford said.
The city is discussing the purchase of automated garbage trucks to replace the current trucks. If that happens, the recycling division may get to use the old garbage trucks.
Re-community's retrofit, which the company is funding without the use of city dollars, would also allow residents to recycle coded plastics with the numbers 3, 4, 5, and 6. Currently, only plastics marked with a 1 or 2 are accepted by Re-community.
"There's a misconception that we're recycling in Memphis, but we're only collecting recyclables. The actual recycling could be done from here to China," Ashford said. "We just package it for the end user, and Re-community knows the best price for their product. When the markets are good, we ought to make a little money. But the main thing is we're diverting from landfills."
Although not related to Re-community's retrofit, Ashford said the city would like to eventually replace the 18-gallon recycling bins with larger carts with lids.
"It would look like a garbage cart, but it may be a different color," Ashford said. "There's a lot of difference in cost. It's $6 for an 18-gallon bin and $50 for a larger cart. You can imagine the cost when you're trying to distribute 170,000 carts."
Currently, 30 percent of the homes in the city serviced by garbage crews recycle. Ashford believes a larger cart would make it more convenient to recycle since the carts would hold more materials and would have wheels, making it easier to move them to the curb. He said the city will seek grants and sponsorships to help cover the cost of switching to carts.