Leading the Charge

For Fort Worth, Texas, contamination continues to taint its otherwise successful recycling program, costing the city an estimated $1 million per year. Now the city is threatening violators with court appearances and heavy fines to help bolster other efforts already in place.

In 2003, the city began a pay-as-you-throw collection system with different sizes of bins. Some residents began filling their recycling carts with contaminants to avoid paying for larger waste carts. Since then, Fort Worth has targeted problem areas of the city and in March implemented the Blue Crew, a six-person team of recycling auditors.

Inspecting up to 1,200 homes per day, the crews sift through recycling carts, looking for nonrecyclables. Previously, they would leave behind a bag filled with any inappropriate items and would charge any egregious violators a $10 collection fee. After three notices, the recycling carts could be revoked.

Now, in cooperation with the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), the city's Code Compliance Department will visit repeat offenders and issue a citation if contaminants are found. Residents will then have to appear in municipal court and face up to a $315 fine.

Kim Mote, assistant director for DEM, isn't worried about intimidating any potential recyclers with the fines. “I would choose that people who don't recycle properly not recycle at all,” he says. Since the Blue Crew began patrolling, Mote says, inspectors have confiscated more than 100 carts and issued nearly 8,000 “charge tags.”

Despite the contamination, the city's recycling rate stands at 21 percent, bringing the city about $1 million annually.