Municipal and waste workers are trying to raise that participation rate, in the meantime sorting through thousands of tons of materials every year.
Ninety-two percent of Oklahoma City residences are eligible for curbside recycling pick-up, said Debbie Ragan, city utilities spokeswoman. That amounts to approximately 175,000 homes. The people who don’t have access live in rural parts of town.
Of everyone who qualifies, 26.5 percent recycle weekly, although as many as 54 percent may recycle on any given week, Ragan said.
“Not everybody recycles every week,” she said.
Recycling rates vary widely across the country. Some cities enforce mandatory recycling programs by designating fines for non-recyclers or refusing to pick up their trash. Other cities charge residents by the trash bag, encouraging them to recycle more waste.
Oklahoma City’s program, however, is completely voluntary. Residents receive a “little blue bin” at the same time as their “big blue” trash can, Ragan said.
When recyclables are placed on the curb in Oklahoma City, they are picked up by one of 20 trucks dedicated to the task. Anything recycled in a little blue bin ends up in Waste Management’s material recovery facility near N.W. Fourth Street and MacArthur Boulevard.
“We do all the sorting and baling here and then sell it to the mills,” said Mark Jordan, plant manager.
Curbside pick-up drivers do the initial sorting, eliminating items that clearly don’t belong with the other recyclables. In the sorting facility, a magnet pulls steel out of the mix as the recyclables travel a conveyor where they are sorted mechanically and by hand.
Once everything is sorted and ready to ship, Waste Management looks for buyers. Jordan said they try to sell materials locally as often as possible; the recycled glass goes to Dlubak Glass in Okmulgee.
The plant sorts 67.2 million pounds of recycled items in a typical year, the equivalent of over 13,000 2.5-ton pickup trucks. Fiber composes the majority of those materials. Jordan said more than half of what residents recycle is paper, while 43 percent is containers, including plastic, glass, steel and aluminum.
He said the total amount of recycled waste, including commercial sources, has increased each year. On the residential side, the main trend he’s noticed has to do with the news.
“We get a lot less newspaper now, with all the online publications,” he said.
Waste Management contracts with Oklahoma City to provide curbside recycling. Steve Hasley, the company’s area director of recycling operations, said Waste Management works with cities to expand their operations.
"Our goal is basically we try to work with the cities to meet their goals,” Hasley said.
No major changes are in the works for Oklahoma City’s program, but both the city and company are encouraging citizens to recycle more.
They just completed a promotion that awarded gift cards to residents drawn from the pool of recyclers. The two entities will also team-up May 5 to collect electronic waste at State Fair Park from 8 a.m.to 4 p.m.