Take a trip back to the 1980s when recycling started gaining steam. School kids were informed to put their unneeded papers into boxes in the classroom. Those papers would get recycled. Bottles and glass became the next items being recycled. At the time, the focus was on keeping reusable materials out of overflowing landfills.

Fast forward several decades. Recycling is now becoming a new problem because it’s costing cities more to recycle than they’re getting back in fees and sales of reusable materials. In Dayton, Ohio, authorities are taking an extreme measure to educate the public about recycling.

What’s Happening in Dayton?

Every year, approximately 9.6 million tons of waste is thrown out in Ohio. Ohioans dispose of almost 2.3 million tons of organic matter like food and yard waste. Paper makes up just over 2 million tons. Plastics account for just over 1.5 million tons. Recycling programs exist to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills.

Recycling used to be a profitable industry. Ohio’s solid waste facilities like Dayton’s Rumpke used to make some profit on recycled materials. When China stopped purchasing items like plastic and cardboard from the U.S., it started costing waste districts more to process recyclables than it was selling them for. Rumpke officials said it can cost up to $100 per ton to process recyclables they’re only making about $40 per ton. That $60 loss has to come from someone, so the waste district started charging cities to use their facility.

Dayton, Ohio, offers free curbside recycling to its residents. The goal is to reduce unnecessary waste from reaching landfills. However, people aren’t recycling correctly. Putting trash in the recycling containers drives up costs as a new truck is dispatched to pick up the items as trash. Those items that could have been recycled end up in the landfill adding to the waste that will sit and decompose for months, years, and decades.

To persuade people to start recycling correctly, Dayton is now using a three-strike rule. For households that continue to put trash in their recycling bins, they’ll get a warning sticker known as the OOPS Sticker.

You get one OOPS Sticker the first time trash is found in the container. Recycling isn’t picked up at that time. Instead, the trash hauler is dispatched to pick it up. The second time, the OOPS Sticker is applied and curbside recycling is again not picked up by the recycling truck and a trash truck gets it instead. The third strike leads to serious consequences. Households who get the third strike lose curbside service for a full year.

Items That Can and Cannot Be Recycled

Dayton’s residents are struggling with recycling. People are throwing items that cannot be recycled into recycling bins. To recycle, listed items must be cleaned and placed in the bin. People seem to be having a hard time understanding what can and cannot be recycled. Use the label on your lid for guidance. If that doesn’t help, here’s a guide to what you can and cannot recycle in Dayton.

#1 – Cartons

Food and drink cartons are recyclable. That includes juice cartons, broth/stock cartons, milk cartons, wine cartons, and most food cartons. Styrofoam food cartons cannot be recycled.

#2 – Glass

Dayton accepts glass bottles and jars in any color. While some areas may not take items like blue glass, you can recycle them in Dayton. You can’t recycle glass light bulbs. CFLs should be recycled properly at a facility that’s approved to accept the bulbs. You don’t want them to smash and expose unsuspecting workers to the mercury inside.

#3 – Metal

Recyclable metal items include food cans and empty metal aerosol cans. Both aluminum and steel food cans are accepted. If you’re recycling aerosol cans like whipped cream cans or hairspray cans, they must be emptied of all air. Remove the lids and take off the tips. You cannot recycle propane tanks or batteries. When batteries are recycled and not caught by the facility, it can start a major fire if sparks ignite paper items.

Metal scraps, metal clothes hangers, and metal chains are recyclable but not in curbside containers. Bring metal items like old metal chairs, metal car parts, metal shelving, and scrap metal to a recycling facility. Find a list of participating drop-off centers at Recycle Nation.

#4 – Paper

Most paper products are welcomed. This includes office paper, newspapers, cardboard, magazines, and catalogs. Breakdown cardboard boxes so that they take up less space and are easier to handle. Paperboard is the type of cardboard used to make things like cereal and cracker boxes. It is recyclable.

Pizza boxes are only allowed if there are no grease marks. If there are grease stains, throw the pizza box in the trash.

#5 – Plastic

Plastic bottles and containers are accepted, but you have to empty them, crush them, and remove any lids or caps. The plastic bottle must have a wider base than a spout. That includes milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, and cleaning solution bottles. If the spout is as wide as the base, such as cat litter containers, it may not be recyclable. If you’re uncertain, call your recycling company rather than risk getting one of the OOPS strikes.

What else isn’t allowed? Buckets and pails are not recycled in a curbside container. Plastic holiday lights are also not recycled in curbside containers. You also cannot recycle cassette tapes, CDs, DVDs, or VHS tapes. Plastic furniture is not recyclable. Plastic straws are not recyclable. Styrofoam, plastic wrap, plastic hoses, and plastic toys are not allowed.

Plastic bags and mailers are not recyclable in curbside containers, but they can be recycled. Don’t throw away plastic bags and plastic mailers. Instead, save them and bring them to a participating retailer that has a drop-off bin for plastic items like plastic grocery bags, dry cleaning bags, deli bags, etc. You can find a list of drop-off locations at Plastic Film Recycling.

No matter what you’re recycling, there’s a general understanding that the items should be clean and dry. Cardboard that’s sopping wet from being out in the rain for days should go into your compost bin or to your trash. The old salsa jar you found in the back of your refrigerator that’s moldy and half full needs to be emptied and washed to remove any reside first. Most facilities don’t require you to have it spotless, but you do need to have removed the food and as much greasy residue as possible. If you do ever have questions, asking them is better than risking the strike and losing your curbside recycling service for a year.

What If You Lose Service?

If you do lose service, you have to wait the full 12 months before you can call the city and renew services. In the meantime, you’ll be transporting your household recyclables to a recycling center. Rely on Recycle Nation to help you find the closest recycling center and see exactly what they do and do not accept.