Yogurt cups. Ketchup Bottles. Plastic take-out containers.

They all recently had to go in the trash bin because of changes in the recycling market.

But now those items can return to the blue recycling bin, thanks to efforts by the City’s Recycling and Solid Waste Division.

“This is a good day for people in Sacramento who care about recycling,” said Erin Treadwell, Community Outreach Manager with the City’s Recycling and Solid Waste Division.

This past June, due to severe market shifts in recycling, the City instructed residents that many plastic items were not being accepted by the City’s recycling processor, Waste Management. Only certain plastics that are labeled 1, 2 or 3, were accepted. Water bottles, soda bottles, and milk jugs fall within these categories.

Squeezable bottles, bottle caps, meat trays and disposable plates fall in the 4-7 categories, and the City had asked residents to place items with these numbers in the trash instead of recycling them.

“The significant changes in recycling were a shock to the system,” said Jerome Council, Integrated Waste General Manger for the City of Sacramento. “China, the biggest purchaser of recyclables, imposed new contamination rules, and the plastics sent for processing were no longer accepted. Yogurt containers that were once recyclable were considered a contaminate.”

But as of Nov. 14, the City had resumed accepting items labeled 1-7 in recycling bins.

(Located somewhere on the plastic item is a number inside of a recycling symbol— typically on the bottom, side, or top — ranging from 1 to 7. The number is an identification code associated with the type of plastic used in the container. The lower the number, the easier it is to re-purpose the type of plastic into another product.)

Although there may be a recycle number on the product, plastic bags are not accepted in the City’s blue bins. Visit the Waste Wizard at SacRecycle.org to look up if an item is recyclable.

Over the past several months, Waste Management had been working to find new markets for all the plastics typically placed in residential blue bins. The City has determined there is enough capacity with the processor to again accept 1-7 plastics, and that it will be able to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Still, the fluctuations of the recycling market have signaled a new normal for many who work in waste disposal. Not every piece of plastic put in the blue bin will be able to be re-purposed immediately.

Processors may have to store some plastics while waiting for markets to open up. Also, not every item with a recycle number is accepted in the recycle waste stream. Styrofoam egg cartons and plastic bags, for example, are not recyclable.

“It has been a wake-up call to most communities,” Treadwell said of the recent changes.  “Recycling education for years has leaned toward making it easy for the consumer, with the idea of tossing all plastics in the blue bin. However, with a more volatile market, customers need to be more mindful of both what they consume and recycle. Recycling is still a waste stream. Reducing waste, by avoiding buying items made from plastic is the best way to support a sustainable community.”

The City has updated its online Waste Wizard, a tool find out if an item is recyclable and how to dispose of it.

For more information, visit SacRecycle.