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Drop-off recycling in Porter County in jeopardy; district adding restrictions to reduce contamination

The Porter County Recycling & Waste Reduction District will be replacing its present drop-off recycling containers with new ones sometime in January in hopes of reducing the amount of contamination in the containers.

VALPARAISO — A tightening international recycling market is having a trickle-down effect on drop-off recycling in Porter County.

Residents using the six drop-off sites sponsored by the Porter County Recycling & Waste Reduction District are being asked to be more careful with what they drop off. 

A high level of contamination is forcing the district to replace the present 44 containers with new boxes that have locked lids with restricted openings to discourage contamination, said Therese Haller, Porter County Recycling executive director.

If the effort doesn't work, residents could lose their drop-off sites.

Donna Stuckert, public education coordinator for the district, said there has been a high level of contamination in drop-off boxes in Porter County for a long time. The contamination is items — from mattresses to lumber to other nonrecyclable items — dumped in the boxes along with true recyclables.

This past week, bags of biowaste were found in a drop-off container in Valparaiso, rendering the container contaminated, Haller said

Until now, Stuckert said, that was OK.

"Sorting facilities have accepted high levels of contamination until last year when the Chinese and other countries began cracking down," she said. That pushback trickled to waste haulers who passed on the problem to local recycling facilities.

Under the district's new contract with Republic Services, the company will no longer recycle the contents of the drop-off recycling boxes with more than 10 percent contamination. Contents of those containers will be taken to the landfill.

Stuckert said the district will be charged an additional $125 per container deemed contaminated. The 44 containers are in Valparaiso, Kouts, Hebron, Chesterton, Burns Harbor and Boone Grove. Each are picked up multiple times per week. The additional costs of landfilling items from contaminated containers could be in the tens of thousands of dollars each month for the district.

Stuckert said there will also be an increased education effort, including taking out newspaper advertisements and radio spots, along with blasting the changes on social media.

The district is also providing guidelines on its website at PorterCountyRecycling.org

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.