Workers said they’ve noticed a big increase in volume, and so far, the numbers back them up.
With the new single-sort system, Minneapolis’ recycling rate in 2013 was 23.3 percent — up from 17.4 percent in 2012, according to Herberholz.
Because the city distributed the last single-sort bins in July, the figures for 2013 include some multi-sort recycling.
“We’re looking for it to spike again,” he said.
The system isn’t perfect, though. One concern is contamination from non-recyclable items — food sometimes ends up on paper and makes it unrecyclable, and Styrofoam and plastic bags that end up in bins have to be taken out.
Tom McMurtrie, solid waste coordinator for the city of Ann Arbor, Mich., said plastic bag recycling has been an issue for the city since its single-sort system was implemented in 2010.
“People feel if they put it in their recycle bin, it’ll get recycled, even if it isn’t recyclable,” he said. “It just makes them feel good, so they put that plastic bag in there.”
When plastic bags end up at the sorting site, they catch in the machine and it has to be shut down while workers fish them out.
“It’s a … downside,” he said.
Working in the winter
At Thursday’s early-morning safety meeting, about 20 recycling employees talked about preventing wintertime injuries.
A foreman, Harold Wright, led a discussion about staying safe in the cold.
“You have a higher risk of cold if …?” he asked, waiting for someone to fill in the blank.
“… You work here,” a worker joked from the back of the room.
Swensen encouraged workers to wear ice cleats on their routes. Some workers at the meeting asked for more sanding in alleyways.
Mollers said this winter has been particularly difficult, and she can’t imagine what it would be like if the multi-sort system were still in place.
But even with the change, she said, winter presents challenges. Climbing over snow banks to get to bins is still a process of “playing mountain goat,” she said.
On her Thursday morning route with her husband, Jon, Mollers left official warning notes telling homeowners to shovel out bins buried in snow.