It's a dirty job, going green. From your trash can to Elkridge, Md., where all of D.C.’s recyclable materials end up at the Waste Management Facility.
“Twenty-five hundred tons per month,” District Manager Dave Taylor said. “That would be 250 tractor-trailers completely filled." Everything that goes there is single stream. “We make it simple. Throw it all in one bin, it comes here and we do the work," Taylor said.
It’s a labyrinth of spinning wheels, cogs and conveyor belts. Cardboard, cans, paper and glass are all compressed into bales to be reused. But sometimes trash that's not recyclable sneaks in.
Like computer parts. “We don’t like monitors,” Taylor said. On the day of its visit, the News4 I-Team saw everything come through from furniture to a fence -- even a small ATV.
About 30 people work on the floor to pull the garbage and other stuff that's not supposed to be in with the recycling material. Those things can clog up the system and shut the conveyor belt down.
In D.C. it is against the law for businesses to mix regular trash with recyclables. The Department of Public Works issues citations.
According to DPW Director William Howland, “We have three inspectors who only cater to recycling violations.” Fines can range from $200 to $2,000. Howland admits, “No one's a hundred percent perfect."
The News4 I-Team sorted through thousands of recycling violations issued since January 2011 for mixing recyclables.
Whole Foods uses recycling as part of its marketing. But its P Street location in D.C. got hit for failure to separate. On two different days the I-Team also found recyclables mixed with trash.
One block from DPW headquarters, inspectors wrote seven violation notices at a Pizza Hut and seven at a Rite Aid on U Street.
That’s the highest number at any single location.
Representatives for both companies said they don't have records of all the notices and were getting in touch with DPW to check on outstanding violations.
Pizza Hut said its stores are "challenged by other people who dispose of both their trash and recycling in the alley."
So, the I-Team dug a little deeper and found Pizza Hut did get one violation dismissed but, according to DPW, hasn't paid others, doubling the fines.
Howland said getting one of these violation notices takes more than just accidentally mixing one piece. “It's not like one or two items. It's several items. And it looks like it's a grievous act."
When it comes to the highest number of violations, drug store chain CVS had a total of 32.
When the I-Team visited area stores that had been cited, we noticed most dumpsters were locked up.
But at a store on Connecticut Avenue, we found recycled material in the regular bin three different times.
A CVS rep told us the chain is disappointed with the violations but planned to provide all "locations in the District with enhanced communications and signage to ensure that recyclable material is disposed of properly."
CVS said it is also "transitioning our Washington stores to a new waste hauler."
"What we really want is to change behavior," Howland said.
CVS, Rite Aid and Whole Foods all told the I-Team they're committed to recycling and plan to use our findings as an opportunity to look at their practices and do a better job.