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Pittsburgh Begins Distributing Blue Bins To Improve Recycling In The City

Teresa Bradley
City of Pittsburgh
Residual paper left in these bays during an audit will be sent to a landfill. According to the City's recycling supervisor, Teresa Bradley, the material gets degraded by the blue bags. Those bags can make entire bales of material unmarketable.

Residents of Garfield, Highland Park and East Liberty will receive new recycling bins from the city today. The blue 32-gallon bins will replace blue bags currently used by some residents.

While many residents use bins for curbside pickup already, the city-issued bins will ensure everyone can ditch the plastic bags, according to the Pittsburgh's recycling supervisor, Teresa Bradley.

Bradley notes the free bins also provide residents with an equal opportunity to recycle. The city hopes more residents will participate in curbside recycling once they receive their bin.   

“If you give people the equipment or the means to do it then they generally do,” Bradley said.

A report by The Recycling Project estimates the bins will generate an annual increase in curbside recyclables of 1,826 tons. According to Bradley, Pittsburgh averages 15,000 tons annually with the recycling program in its current form.

While increasing participation is one major focus of the project, another is moving away from using plastic bags. The blue bags can wreak havoc at processing facilities where workers have to pick plastic from conveyor belts full of materials. Some sites shut down equipment daily to flush the system of the plastic bags. Otherwise facilities won’t be able to sell the recycled materials to buyers like China.

“And if they don’t pick that out, that bale will be rejected on the market now. It’s that strict. So that’s another reason why Pittsburgh needs to move away from it,” Bradley said.

Credit Teresa Bradley / City of Pittsburgh
By 2023, all single family homes and small apartment complexes in Pittsburgh will receive a 32-gallon recycling bin from the city like the one pictured here.

Pittsburgh is joining other companies and municipalities in phasing out plastic bags. Grocery chains like Giant Eagle will phase out single-use plastics by 2025. The city plans to get bins to all single family homes, duplexes and apartment buildings with fewer than five units by 2023. Monday’s distribution will reach 5,500 homes across the three neighborhoods.

Highland Park, Garfield and East Liberty were selected for the first round of bin distribution due to the varying levels of participation among the three neighborhoods. According to Bradley, a 2020 study found that Highland Park averages 90 percent participation in recycling while Garfield averages 37 percent. The City will monitor participation rates closely after residents receive their bins to note any changes.

The bins are part of Mayor Bill Peduto’s larger climate action plan which seeks to mitigate the local effects of global climate change.

The plan also includes city officials exploring the idea of a city-operated composting site. Bradley says a team is currently researching types composting facilities and considering different locations. “We’re hoping to look at aerated static pile composting… that’s better because you don’t need as much area and we would be able to accept some food scraps,” she said. Aerated static style composting is also considered to be a cost-effective approach to composting.

Bradley said the city is still researching a plan to launch a composting facility, but that one or more sites could be named in the next year.