CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Corpus Christi's bi-weekly recycling collection works well for residents like David Prinz, who says the recycling bin at his home fills up every two weeks or so.
"I put water bottles, cardboard, and papers (in the bin), and that’s it," he said. "Everything else has to be cleaned or rinsed. I’m not going to mess with all that.”
The city's recycling guidelines do say that paper, metal and plastic recyclables should be "empty, clean, and dry".
But the man in charge of the city's recycling program says the bigger problem is residents putting items in their bins that can't be recycled at all.
“For every six pounds of recyclables someone puts in it, somebody else is putting in four pounds of trash," Solid Waste Director David Lehfeldt said. "That’s a real concern, because we pay a premium to have our recycling materials processed and sold."
The contamination costs the city — and therefore taxpayers — an estimated $500,000 per year. It's why Recycle Clean began right after the beginning of the new year.
The city hired four compliance officers to inspect the recycle bins that residents sit out at the curb for improper items.
At first, those officers will only slap so-called 'oops stickers' on bins as a reminder to residents to research what is — and what's not — recyclable in Corpus Christi.
"We’re not out there looking to fine anybody," Lehfeldt said. "We’re not looking to get anybody mad. We’re just out there looking to educate."
But, if a resident ignores that lesson and continues to use their recycling bin as a trash can four times, the city will take further action. That person will be removed from the recycling program and their recycle bin confiscated for six months.
Once that time has passed, the offender will be given another chance to recycle appropriately.
“We really don’t want to take the container away from anybody," Lehfeldt said. "Our preference is that everybody learns how to use it and learns to do it right. Because that way the whole city benefits."
Prinz considers rules requiring the cleaning, rinsing and drying of food containers and other recyclables to be "strict", but he's more than willing to follow other rules — like no building supplies in recycling bins.
“Oh no — never," he said while sawing lumber he's using for a backyard project. "(I) never throw stuff like that — not in a recycle bin.”
If you'd like to know what's recyclable and what's not in Corpus Christi, an app called Recycle Coach is one way to find out.