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Recycling // Waste Industry // MSW

Ask Your Waste Hauler These Questions To Become A Better Recycler

To become a better recycler, it’s helpful to set expectations from the onset by asking some key questions to your local waste and recycling hauler.

Ryan Deer | September 23, 2021

In the waste industry, oftentimes the only time you realize you’re doing something wrong with trash or recycling is when it appears as a line item on your bill a month later.

It’s not just carelessness; it’s ambiguity. The reality is that all the things you learned about recycling growing up in Chicago may have completely different rules of thumb in Atlanta. And no matter how many years you’ve been managing your company’s waste, if your service provider changes, all your “must-dos” turn into maybes.

That’s because the waste industry doesn’t operate on the same playbook. Region to region, city to city, and hauler to hauler, policies differ based on market dynamics and infrastructure capabilities.

For you, it’s a frustrating game to play when the stakes are high levels of contamination, low national recycling rates, and unchecked operational fees and penalties to your business.

That’s why it’s helpful to set expectations from the onset by asking some key questions to your local waste and recycling haulerthe answers to which may never appear in your contract or handbook.

To become a better recycler, these are the conversations you’ll need to have to get on the same page.

Q1. What # plastics are accepted?

Across the country, plastics stamped with a #1 and #2 “chasing arrows” symbols are widely accepted by haulers large and small. Representing PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and HDPE (high-density polyethylene), respectively, items like plastic water and soda bottles, milk jugs, margarine tubs, and various consumer packaging can be added to your bin without worry.

Unfortunately, there are five other symbols—the Wild West of recycling. In some markets, there’s demand for #3 PVC and #5 PP… in others, virtually none. In effect, that could mean attempting to commingle 3s and 5s with 1s and 2s causes the whole load to become contaminated (and potentially worthless).

As a general framework, you can print out or distribute our infographic to your employees as a guide. However, the best course of action is getting a definitive yes or no from your hauler.

Q2. Do you take glass bottles and jars?

Glass recycling programs are disappearing across the country, often without much explanation. Allow us to break it down from a haulers’ perspective with an excerpt from our article Why is Glass Recycling Going Away?:

Compactor trucks become burdened by the weight of too much glass, forcing them to take extra trips. That effectively hikes transportation costs as the two-miles-per-gallon trucks eat double and triple the fuel. Compounding this is the distance between a city’s MRF and a region’s cullet buyer—in some instances, it’s hundreds of miles. 

So, when the economics don’t add up, traditional waste management services cut their losses… and their programs.

The question above seems pretty black or white, but it’s not. If your glass isn’t being recycled, the next query should be if you’re being charged extra from the bulky material weighing down your business’s dumpster? The answer is likely yes—being the glass is expedited to the nearest landfill.

When faced with a glass ban, ask your hauler for other resources, like where you might find local collection points or drop-off centers.

Q3. What constitutes an overage charge?

When it comes to the staging of your collections—dumpsters, compactors, balers, etc.—haulers are increasingly particular that you meet certain criteria. This criteria isn’t the same from hauler to hauler. On top of that, even the smallest violation is known to carry the full penalty.

Going over the preferred staging of your pickups with your hauler ensures an orderly and uncontentious routine. However, we’ve generalized the criteria for the nation’s leading haulers in an illustration below.

Q4. Is there anything I can do about food waste?

Like glass, food waste weighs down your trash and eats away at your budget. But the negatives extend far beyond that. The EPA reports that 24.1% of landfills are made up of wasted food, material responsible for 9% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions as it decomposes there.  

There aren’t an overwhelming amount of elegant solutions for food waste available to commercial businesses. The nation’s largest haulers do offer programs that yield impressive results, but these services aren’t available in every market. It’s best to inquire.

For more of a sure thing, exploring RoadRunner’s FleetHaul service and RecycleMore™ programs should be a consideration. Operating in nearly 20 U.S. major markets—and running continuously through the most uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic—RoadRunner diverted 44,550 pounds of food waste from landfill for our partners in 2020.

That’s saving 169,290 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere. Just some food for thought...

Q5. Why is my price going up every year?

There are countless reasons why your performance as a savvy recycler can suffer—wishcycling, poor sorting, high contamination, and more. Yet, sometimes (or my like annually), your business’s waste bill is higher for no reason whatsoever. 

These are called annual price increases, or APIs. Put plainly, they’re a price mechanism counteracting the cost of doing business for the hauler—and they’re rising for a number of environmental factors. (For a more detailed explanation, you should read our post APIs: How Your Waste Bill Can Double in Five Years.)

Asking your hauler this question is a good conversation starter—if anything, it tells the hauler that you’re paying attention. Moreover, it signals your belief that you should be rewarded for being a smarter recycler, not the other way around.

RoadRunner has an answer for that, too. Leveraging proprietary algorithms for analysis and unique position in the industry, RoadRunner works alongside other haulers to keep things fair. No matter if your business is already in a contract, we can enter as a cost-effective solution and valuable partner for firmly capping APIs for the first 36-month term, then negotiating market-best rates afterward.

Plus, with your own dedicated customer success advocate, becoming a better recycler comes with much less head-scratchers.


Let's get the conversation started on how to drive recycling and cost savings for your business.