Council To Vote On $50 Fee For Dirty Diapers in Recycling Bins

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Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report

Recycling contractor ReCommunity, which processes the city’s residential waste, reports that more than 100 pounds of diapers per hour are thrown into recycling bins.

A plan to allow city staff to charge a $50 fee for diapers tossed in recycling and organics bins will go to a full San Antonio City Council vote after a committee signed off on it Tuesday.

Solid Waste Director David McCary told the council’s Community Health and Equity Committee that the fee will give his department another tool to discourage residents from improperly disposing of diapers, a practice he said is costing the city in surcharges from its recycling processor.

“We believe that almost all of our residents actually are aware that dirty diapers do not belong in the recycling or organics carts,” he said. “And although the number of customers actually contaminating the recycling with dirty diapers is small, the effects are significant.”

ReCommunity, a recycling contractor that processes the city’s residential waste, is now dealing with more than than 100 pounds of diapers per hour that have been thrown in the city’s blue recycling bins, McCary said.

Because of the difficulty of processing the diapers and the way they contaminate otherwise marketable recycled paper, plastic, cans, and glass, ReCommunity “requested extra financial compensation” of $12.50 per ton that now adds up to $1.2 million per year, McCary said.

The amount of non-recyclable waste — not just diapers — in San Antonio’s recycling stream has always fluctuated, according to a background memo posted ahead of the meeting. Last year, as much as 28 percent of the city’s recycling was contaminated.

In 2016, the city approved a $25 fee on all non-recyclable waste disposed in its blue recycling bins. The proposal would up the fee to $50 for diapers only.


The contamination rate is now down to 18 percent, the memo states. But the diaper contamination rate has gone in the opposite direction, rising from 53 pounds per hour in August 2016 to 103 pounds per hour in November 2017.

“Out of all of the contaminants, San Antonio has a particular problem with dirty diapers being placed into the recycling cart,” the memo states. “Diapers are not recyclable; they belong in the brown cart.”

If the city can cut the diaper contamination rate below 50 pounds per hour for six consecutive months, the payment will drop to $600,000, McCary said, adding that dropping below 5 percent will end the extra payment entirely.

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), chair of the Community Health and Equity Committee, said the problem is citywide and not confined to certain neighborhoods. Both adult and child diapers are winding up in recycling, she said, adding that people would get a warning before a fine.

“City leadership believes in education and warnings to reduce contamination before they go into fining,” she said.

McCary stressed that the point of the fee is to change resident’s recycling practices, not to generate revenue. About 97 percent of those warned to change their recycling ways have done so without a fine, he said.

The $25 fee has generated $25,000 since it was implemented, he said.

City Council has not yet set a date for the vote on the diaper fee.

McCary said Solid Waste Management will also continue its outreach and education campaigns on how to properly dispose of waste.

In blue recycling bins, residents can generally dispose of most paper, plastics, glass, and metals. That does not include aluminum foil, auto glass, hardcover books, light bulbs, shredded paper, waxed paper, foam packing peanuts, and toys.

Leaves, grass, shrub and tree trimmings, food scraps, and food-soiled paper go in the green organics bins.

Everything else (except for dead animals, electronics, and hazardous waste) goes in the brown trash bins.

13 thoughts on “Council To Vote On $50 Fee For Dirty Diapers in Recycling Bins

  1. How would the City enforce that fee? The only thing I can think is that a city employee will have to check, randomly or not, prior to the truck lifting any bin. I would imagine that there are certain neighborhoods that are worse than others, as it can quickly be noticed when the truck drops its load once full.

  2. I live close to an intersection where a lot of people take their dogs out for walking. When I leave my trash bin out on the trash/recycle pick up days, I have seen individuals drop dog-poop sacks into the trash/recycle bin.

  3. Obviously the city supports recycling. Threatening to impose a fine for a wrong item place in a recycle bin will discourage recycling. I don’t do it because, with a list or not, it is too cumbersome for me to sort through my trash and put recyclables in one bin and “trash” in another. The recycling program needs a top to bottom review to see if improvements in education and processes can be made. Threatening a fine is a great way to kill a program that I’m sure some have worked many years to create.

  4. I have to put my recycling bin out the night before because they pick it up early in the morning before I would be up and remember to put it out. The items in it are all legitimate, and it represents about 75% of my trash. But one morning I happened to leave early and looked in my bin to see if it was ready for me to put inside, and it wasn’t. Someone (probably my neighbor who is only here 1-2 days per week from the Valley) had put a small bag of regular garbage on top of my recycling trash. (I removed it and put it in my non-recycling bin.) Anytime I leave early now, I look, and I have not seen it happen again, but I imagine it is happening occasionally without my knowledge. This new rule will probably just encourage people to throw diapers in their neighbor’s trash. It would have been better for the city to have observed and noted the addresses where it is occurring without notification. Then they could have directly contacted those creating the problem and advised them. On the next violation, they could have issued a ticket. And that process would have provided a database that would have helped them figure out if future violations were being caused by people putting diapers in their neighbors’ recycling bins.

  5. I find dirty diapers in the bed of my truck when I park in parking lots at stores…people are so damn trashy and dirty, these people do not need kids…

  6. The metrics (or ‘data’) provided thus far for the diaper problem are meaningless. Hopefully the Council gets better data, but I wouldn’t hold my breath since, well, they just don’t seem to be all that good at asking discerning questions. The City Staff doesn’t seem to help them much, either.

    200-250 pounds of dirty diapers per hour in the waste-stream is a worthless tidbit of a factoid. $1.2 million per year is a number, but doesn’t mean much.

    A measure of how many contaminated bins per week might explain the breadth (or narrowness) of the problem since that correlates to customers. Can they track or accurately estimate that? If not, then how do they scale and staff their enforcement plan? How many contaminated bins would an inspector have to find in a day to recoup his costs? Would he have a quota, like cops and traffic tickets?

    Is there a correlation between diapers and collection day of the week?

    Would collecting brown + blue bins on the same day make a difference rather than the current blue + green bins?

    Does China’s ban on buying US recyclables call for a larger review on the overall viability of the program, e.g. “the only items allowed in the recycle bin are clean Amazon boxes and aluminum cans.”

  7. Just go to Walmart or any other strip mall and take pics of all the people that are sooooooooooo guilty of thinking they are above throwing a dirty diaper in a disposal where it belongs and just leave it on the ground or like the person said in the back of his pickup. Watch out cause when I see it, I find the guilty party and mail the dirty diaper back to them. So, I would like to see cameras placed on the recycle bins to capture these acts so the city will have proof of who did it and will follow through with criminal charges that the City charter allows. And then also publicly place their mug on the most wanted posters! These are the same people that leave their shopping carts wherever they are parked instead of putting the cart in the spaces allotted for them – they think they are so much better than everyone else. I even stopped a guy in a BMW doing it and he just ignored me and got in his car and took off. Gotta love the trash.

  8. The attitude that “I can’t be bothered” or “Just get it out of my face” or “I’m throwing everything ‘away,’ even though I don’t know (or care) where ‘away’ is” is rampant. How much easier can the City make it? Allowed/not allowed instructions are printed on the lids of brown, blue & green bins. It ain’t rocket science.
    We will always need to recycle. As the population grows, it will be crucial. Do schools teach the brown/blue/green basics to kids? How about a unit at each year of school on citizen responsibility: recycling, noise & light pollution, voting, etc. Couldn’t hurt. Might help.

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