Recycling credits knock down the price of shipping a ton of garbage south from $204 to $89. “Recycling is about saving the Earth,” says Sitka’s Maegan Bosak, “and about saving money.” (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Recycling remains a good deal for the City of Sitka, as long as what goes into the bins is relatively clean.

Changes in the world commodity market for recyclables have forced US sellers to dramatically improve the quality of unprocessed recyclables — in other words, the cardboard, newspaper, and plastic Sitkans throw into the bins at the city recycling center.

Sitka’s maintenance superintendent Harry Green read the bad news during a recent Morning Interview on KCAW.

“In order to comply with stricter commodities specifications, and to encourage reduced contamination, beginning in August, 2018 Republic Services will implement a visual inspection for all loads delivered to our recycling centers. For loads that exceed 10-percent of contamination, we will apply a contamination charge of up to $150 a ton.”

Republic Services receives Sitka’s municipal solid waste — or MSW — in Puget Sound, and hauls it to a landfill in Eastern Washington.

The cost for shipping MSW south is $204 per ton. Every ton of recyclable aluminum, cardboard, or number 1 and 2 plastic Sitka ships out earns a credit that lowers that cost dramatically — all the way down to $89 per ton.

But now, if those recyclables appear to be contaminated, Sitka will have to pay a $150 penalty — driving up the overall cost to $239 per ton, which is more than Sitka would pay for just for regular garbage.

Green says there are many contamination problems in Sitka’s recyclables, most of which can be addressed by simple education.

Plastic bags shouldn’t be in with aluminum cans. Tin cans and aluminum shouldn’t be mixed together. Sitka used to take mixed paper, but doesn’t anymore. Nevertheless, Green says a lot of mixed paper is contaminating the newsprint and cardboard bins.

Newsprint is just for newspapers. And cardboard is strictly number 1, corrugated cardboard — with no coatings. Green says that rules out some pretty common products around Sitka:

“No printed boxes, no wax coating, like our freezer boxes that we send south with fish in them and stuff like that — that’s contamination,” Green said. “We have to sort that out. And if it gets mixed in, then we get a contaminated bale.”

Also on the banned list: beer, soda, processed food boxes, and egg cartons — they don’t count as cardboard.

And finally, Green says “Don’t even think about bringing your pizza boxes.” Green says food waste contaminates a load.

The Public Works Department will be placing new signs in the recycling center to remind residents of recycling do’s and dont’s.

Done right, Green believes recycling is simple, and Sitka’s community affairs director Maegan Bosak agrees. “It’s about saving the earth,” she says, “but it also saves us a lot of money.”

KCAW’s Katherine Rose contributed to this story.