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Contamination Violation Policy

Recycling as we know it is threatened as never before. In 2017, China announced a change in its import policies, dubbed “National Sword,” that set strict new contaminants thresholds on the bales of recyclable materials it buys. The stringent new requirements—no more than 0.5% contamination in bales—forces recycling processors to go to extraordinary lengths to try to improve the quality of recovered materials. Additional employees have been added to sort lines. Materials are now often processed, and then reprocessed a second time to produce cleaner bales.

The demand for cleaner materials has filtered down from China to domestic processors to haulers, like ourselves, and finally down to you, the original source of this waste stream. Now we must take action to “police” individual recycle carts because the processing plant reports our loads consist of about 20% trash.

We are dismayed that it has come to this, but it must be the responsibility of each of us to ensure a cleaner stream of recyclable material is delivered to the processing plants.

Our New Policy


Instead, our driver will leave a Violation Notice (click image on left to see a bigger version) on the cart handle describing the contaminant observed in the cart, and providing an opportunity to clean out the cart for pickup the following week. Or you may opt to request a special pickup (for a fee) after cleaning the cart.

When a cart is tagged, a sticker that describes a number of the most common contaminants will be placed on the cart lid as a permanent reminder of what should NOT be put in the cart.


The common contaminants listed on the violation notice are:

  • Plastic bags and packaging (should go into trash)
  • Garbage bags (only garbage goes into garbage bags, do not bag your recyclables)
  • E-waste/batteries (see Hazardous Wastes)
  • Scrap metal & hangers (should go into trash)
  • Food (should go into your compost cart)
  • Styrofoam (should go into trash)
  • Diapers (should go into trash)
  • Clothing (donate or goes into trash)

What is Recycling Contamination?

Contamination is the term used to describe anything that renders your recycling non-recyclable. Recycling contamination also increases labor costs at processing plants as workers try to separate materials. Contamination typically occurs when:

  1. Non-recyclable items are put in collection carts
  2. Food waste (solid or liquid) in recyclable containers has not been thoroughly cleaned or rinsed, soiling paper products into which it comes in contact.
  3. Bags of recyclables are dropped into carts rather than dumping the recyclables in loose. Bags are NOT torn open at the processing plants so the bag and all its contents end up in the trash.

Learn More

In their continuing coverage of the challanges facing the recycling industry, ABC 7 ran this story about our efforts to alert our customers to the contamination problem. 

In this short video, our friends at Marin Sanitary explain how contamination can ruin your best recycling efforts.


Download the Flyer

In early July, we mailed a flyer to all our customer's alerting them to our new recycling contamiantion policy.

View Contamination Flyer


More Information