Decatur Recycling Doesn’t Accept Plastic Bags or Disposable Cups

From LAST month’s Decatur Focus.  (That’s how many times I’ve forgotten to post this.)

Decatur’s recycling partner is a single-stream provider, so there’s no need to separate your recyclables. However, they have provided some clarification about a handful of items that cannot be accepted. Dry cleaning bags, newspaper wraps, Styrofoam and disposable cups (like Solo cups or those from Starbucks) cannot be recycled, and have to be treated as trash. Plastic grocery bags are also unacceptable, but you can recycle those at Publix or Kroger: both have recycling receptacles near their entrances.

And remember you can’t recycle juice or milk cartons either, which has been known to compel organic/nature-loving Decaturites to spend entire weekends searching for organic milk options in plastic containers.

50 thoughts on “Decatur Recycling Doesn’t Accept Plastic Bags or Disposable Cups”

  1. “remember you can’t recycle juice or milk cartons either” The cardboard ones, I guess they mean. The Styrofoam still isn’t clear – ALL Styrofoam or only cups?

    1. Possible, but in commission mtgs, city staff has nothing but good things to say about Latham from customer service perspective, especially. So it will probably take a bit more to get them to reconsider their contract.

  2. Does anyone know when they changed providers for recycling? I started hearing different guidelines than we had in the past a little while ago and thought people were just uninformed, but later found out that the guidelines had changed without notice.

    I’m still unclear on whether I can recycle plastic items with numbers 1-7 that are not containers – like packing materials, bags, etc. I see that grocery bags are excluded, but I get a lot of other bags that do have numbers on them.

    1. Don’t know if it’s the case here but it’s not uncommon for rules to change from time to time, even if you maintain the same provider, because the demand/profitability of different materials rises and falls. What was economical to manage at one point might become less so. There’s no use (from a business sense) to pay premiums to recycle a particular material if there’s no market for the output on the back end.

    2. From Latham Home Sanitation’s pdf on Decatur recycling:
      “We ACCEPT: All aluminum items.
      All glass bottles and jars.
      All plastic containers labeled “1”-“7”.
      All paper products. Plastic bags.
      We DON’T accept: Styrofoam products without a recycling logo.
      Any item that has been contaminated by food with waste.”

      1. This could use a follow-up inquiry. Styrofoam with recycling labels 1-7? Solo cups with recycling labels 1-7? Contradictory info.

        I still don’t see how more than a small fraction of that stuff that smashed, broken, etc in the back of the truck will get recycled, but that’s another question.

  3. “Decaturites to spend entire weekends searching for organic milk options in plastic containers”


    Thought YDFM is full to the brim with these. No?

    1. DEM – you are right. YDFM has its own branded organic milk in plastic bottles.

      1. That’s what I thought — the one with the cream top, right? I know nothing about this supposed elimination of pork shoulder, though.

        1. i’d like to go on record as a cream top opponent.

          i’ve read of the uses for this glob and remain unconvinced. i’ve heard one should shake up the container before using, and maybe i rode the short yellow bus to milk shaking school, but that only results in hundreds of small cream blobs that are the bane of my existence as Chief Cereal Executive for my very persnickety spawn who insist i strain the lactic goo out before serving them.

          can we just have some normal pasteurized milk filled with dead nutrients please?

          1. Psst: It’s homogenization that makes fat uniform in the milk, not pasteurization. Pretty much all milk sold in stores is pasteurized unless you’ve happened upon an illegal raw milk supplier, though there are different degrees (literally, as it’s based on temps used in the process) of pasteurization. We try to avoid “ultra pasteurized” since the high heat kills a lot of the nutrients.

            If you’re wondering why someone would want non-homogenized milk, as sold at YDFM, it’s because a lot of folks, especially those who have lactose issues (short of actual lactose intolerance) find it easier to digest. And I’m sure some would make claims regarding its taste and nutritive qualities.

            Finally, “short bus?” Really?

            1. Let me second the mild chiding of using “on the short bus” as a synonym for “dumbass” or “incompetent.” I know that you didn’t mean anything horrible by it, but still, I think it’s a usage to avoid, given that kids in special ed already get a lot of crap.

          2. Your kids don’t like it because you don’t like it. When I was little, the cream in the top of bottled milk was a treat that we vied for. Tasting non-homogenized milk conjures a whole tableau of smells, sights and sounds for me, including the particular tinkly clink when the milkman set full bottles on the concrete front porch in the wee hours of the morning, when not even Mama was up yet.

        2. DEM, no worries, I’m also clueless about the pork shoulder. But that’s ok bc we primarily eat fish and poultry, when we do eat meat. We already eat just tiny amounts of meat, and I’d love to get where we also have only tiny bits of dairy. However, we currently have a love affair with our cheese, yogurt, ice cream… clearly, we have some soul-searching to do.

  4. I must say, I would much rather separate my recyclables if it meant that they actually collected more recyclable products.

    1. As Scott indicates above, it’s not a separation issue. It’s recycling markets issue. Recycling is already a less than break-even proposition in most cases, so if particular commodities are not in demand, there’s even less incentive to go to the trouble of diverting them.

      Single-stream (i.e, everything in one bin) recycling has exponentially increased recycling rates nationwide, so don’t feel guilty about not source separating.

      What we should all be worried about is China’s Green Fence initiative, which is essentially their attempt to source all of their recyclable commodities from within their own country instead of importing them from us as they do now. If it works, our recycling markets will collapse like a house of cards.

      1. By “recycling rates,” does that mean the amount of stuff people send off for recycling or the amount of stuff that is actually recycled? And is the latter known? It must be much harder to recycle nonseparated material.

        1. Good question. Recycling rates in this context refers to household participation, which generally is the hardest row to hoe. You do have higher contamination rates and more sorting issues with single-stream (also known as “commingled”) recyclables, but those issues are dwarfed by the volumes you get when people aren’t asked to separate. Moreover, the technologies at work in a materials recovery facility (MRF) where those commingled recyclables go to be separated and processed would blow your mind. There’s still some hand sorting involved, but so much of it is automated it’s crazy. Magnets sort ferrous and non-ferrous materials. Lasers shoot through plastics to determine their composition (i.e., their number) and air jets puff desirable and undesirable pieces into various chutes. And they’re refining these techniques all the time. Basically, the waste and recycling industry has realized it’s much more profitable and easy to let individuals just throw everything in one bin and take it upon themselves to sort it out.

          The next frontier when it comes to waste diversion is organics…

  5. I think we may still need further clarification about the cups.

    I think plastic disposable cups (like Solo) are actually recyclable if printed with a recycling number on the bottom. There is probably some confusion here in Decatur since so many restaurants are using the new corn-based clear cups, which is great, but I’m not sure those are recyclable. I would guess not.

    I’ve read that the disposable paper cups (from Starbucks and the like) are not recyclable because the paper, similar to the milk cartons, has been imbued with other substances to make it stand up to holding liquid and is therefore no longer pure paper.

    If anyone has more information on this, or if I am incorrect in these assumptions, please let me know.

  6. What’s disappointing to me about this information is that no one has come on here to remind us that these are first world problems. Yet.

  7. So, does anyone know if YDFM recycling park will accept any of these “undesirables”?

    We have a lot of juice/milk containers, Starbucks take homes, plastic bags, and dry cleaner bags we’d rather not throw in our expensive yellow bags if at all possible.

    Since I thought all these things were OK with Latham, we haven’t been to the recycling park in many years. Oh well, new project for the kids.

  8. Here’s my second dumb question today: What happens if we do inadvertently include some of these (maybe) banned items in our recycling bin? Like, if Mr. I’ll Have puts a food-corrupted container in there that escapes my notice?

    1. I think it works thus: They figure that there will be a certain amount of non-recyclable stuff. What isn’t must be separated and sent to the landfill. If it exceeds a certain percentage, they can charge the City more, since their cost is then more.

    2. There’s one recycling company that has a contraption and it works thusly:

      Recyclables (and other stuff) from the collection truck are loaded onto a conveyor belt. Along the conveyor belt are tiny air guns that *poof* shoot non-recyclables off the belt. Only the materials wanted continue on to the recycling fairy.

      I have no idea how the air guns know what is and isn’t needed. But I’ve seen it and it is neat.

      1. See my post above. This is a standard piece of equipment in a material recovery facility and is primarily used to sort plastics. A laser eye shooting through the plastics instantaneously determines what type it is, triggering the jet of air when needed, and it all happens in the blink of an eye.

        Usually the first step is to remove glass and plastic bags, both of which can damage the machinery. Early on gravity is a big part of the process (for example, glass is heavy and falls out, cardboard and paper tend to rise to the top). There is some hand sorting (people standing along the lines) at various stages. Other technologies used in combination in MRFs, which generally look like large buildings crisscrossed with conveyor belts, include water baths (some stuff floats, some stuff sinks), magnets to sort ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and more.

  9. I’ve always heard that they won’t take plastic bags because they get tangled up in their machinery.

    1. Yeah, that’s definitely true and probably the bigger part of it. But also that it’s just not profitable to sort for this material as you need so many bags to yield a useful/valuable amount of plastic. Thus, it’s something that still makes more sense to source separate (i.e., take to your local grocery store).

      On a related note, this is why polystyrene foam (i.e., Styrofoam) is so insidious and impractical to recycle: You need massive amounts of it to be worth anything, but by its very nature a little bit of it by weight takes up a lot of volume and you can’t break it down or compress it easily enough to densify enough of it into a valuable portion.

  10. Um, so what has been happening to all those plastic bags we were putting in the recycling bins while we thought we were following the instructions?

  11. I would love curbside composting. In some west coast spots all the food waste can go into it’s own bin that’s collected. This includes paper towels, paper plates, even with food on them.

    1. I just learned of a company that does something along the lines of what you’re looking for. It’s called Compost Wheels. They, essentially, give you a bucket with a lid. You put in all of your compostable materials and leave it out on the curb for them to pick up once/week. The cost is $25/month. A bunch of families in our neighborhood are going in on it together and I think that’s going to bring down the cost a bit.

      Although, you wouldn’t want to put in ALL your food waste. You’d just want to put in the compostable stuff.

      1. Keep us posted. If it works for your group of neighbors, maybe others of us will band together. Maybe the concept will spread like Little Libraries…

          1. Ha! That will draw them away from our basements! And make it easy for all the gun-toting Decaturites to shoot them.

      2. I don’t want to sully my reputation as a heartless, environment hating conservative, but I’ve found worm bins work great to recycle kitchen/food waste without attracting rats/critters. We throw in everything from paper towels to coffee grounds to melon rinds, and the worms just plow through it. (No meats, no dairy, of course, but that’s not much of the waste at our house.)
        A couple of plastic bins tucked away in a corner of the yard and you’re set. Cheap and easy – my two favorite things. And I’m no green thumb, but the plants dig the output when the worms are done.

  12. I think we need a clarification on the clarification. Do they accept plastic or Styrofoam cups with a recycling logo? Or they accept Styrofoam and plastic with logos unless they’re cups or bags?

  13. Under Decatur’s first generation recycling contract, the contractor was paid based on the number of households. Thus their incentive was to actually handle as little material as possible (since then (as now) there was not much money in recycled materials). Everybody got one bin and they only took things that were in your bin. If you had an oversized piece of cardboard you had to cut it to fit in the bin. Almost as bad as when you couldn’t move the TV all over the house.

  14. I just popped some of the blow up plastic things that come in the amazon box….they have a 2 recycle sign on them but they are clear plastic. I wasn’t sure what to do with them! This is how I end up with little piles of things in my garage.

    I will totally check out Compost Wheels!

  15. For almost all plastic bags and wraps, check out
    Look for “The Bag Family” for a list of plastic film accepted at multiple participating retailers.
    Georgia is one of seven states involved in the A Bag’s Life program. Grocery, newspaper, dry cleaner, and bread bags plus plastic wrap packaging from paper products and even the liners from cereal and cracker boxes are accepted at major retailers (beyond the grocery stores).
    The reason these are not accepted curbside is they clog up equipment at the sorting facilities, so drop off at multiple retail locations is the alternative.

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