To-go containers, clean pizza boxes, and plastic plates are not regular trash anymore in D.C., they’re recyclables.
The District has increased the number of items that can be tossed into city’s big blue toters and will standardize the list across residences, businesses, and schools, the Department of Public Works announced today.
“Landfills are the third largest source of man-made methane emissions in the U.S. The more we can recycle or compost, the less we’ll need to bury burn or sent to landfills and the healthier the District will be, ” said DPW Director Christopher Shorter at a press conference this afternoon.
The updated list of recyclables was required to go into effect by January 1, 2018, as part of a landmark 2014 law meant to make the city more sustainable through waste diversion. It sets an ambitious goal of diverting 80 percent of the city’s waste by 2030.
In 2015, the city had a residential recycling rate of around 28 percent, which represents an impressive increase of about 7 percentage points from five years prior, but still puts D.C far behind neighboring jurisdictions. Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, for example, are both above 60 percent.
DPW hopes that the new recycling regime will help (the mayor has been supportive of the new composting and recycling programs coming out of DPW, but her past two consecutive budget proposals have also cut funding for DPW’s Office of Waste Diversion) .
In addition to paper, plastic (but not plastic bags), metal, cartons, and glass, the following items can now be recycled, too: pizza boxes; paper and plastic plates, cups, lids, and to-go containers; plastic produce, deli/bakery containers, and trays.
It currently applies to residents who are served by DPW—those who live in single-family homes and buildings with fewer than four units. Commercial properties, office buildings, and restaurants will be required to recycle the additional items by the January 1 deadline.
With that, the list of recyclable items will be standardized across the city.
Previously, the answer to the question of “what can you recycle in D.C.?” was specific to if the resident was in a business, school, home, or apartment building.
“The whole ‘it depends, with a complicated answer’ is a pretty frustrating experience for everyone,” says Dan Guilbeault, the head of the D.C. Department of Energy and the Environment’s sustainability and equity branch. “It’s really beautiful to see that messaging getting so clear and so concise—and having one place the people can go to get their questions answered.”
That place is Zero Waste DC, a new website also unveiled today that explains the lay of the recycling land. It also details the myriad other programs, resources, and opportunities for D.C. residents to reduce their trash output.
“I want to challenge everyone here to imagine a day when Washington, D.C. has no waste,” Shorter said today. “Instead of sending items to be disposed to a pile in landfills and to burn in incinerators, we reuse them, we recycle them, we compost them, or we turn them into energy.”