Chris Van Horne, Fort Worth journalist
You probably don't think too much about your recycling after you put it on the curb. But did you know that only six people sort through all of the recycling picked up in Fort Worth?
The second-largest city in North Texas is putting extra thought into every recycling cart it picks up.
A team of six called the "Blue Crew" checks what residents try to recycle and often finds trash that doesn't belong in the carts.
"Pizza boxes, diapers, restroom garbage -- sometimes you'll find dead animals in here, also," said Blue Crew staff member Rosana Flores, adding that plastic bags, aluminum foil and food are other popular contaminants.
There have been times when nearly a third of the material in the carts was contaminated. In other words, it couldn't be recycled.
"A simple thing like a pizza box is contaminated because it has grease on it, which could really mess up a batch of cardboard that's trying to be made into new cardboard," said Kim Mote, assistant director of Fort Worth's Solid Waste Services Division.
In an effort to keep some contaminated material out, the Blue Crew goes street-to-street and cart-to-cart, rain or shine, in selected neighborhoods across the city every day.
Residents who have good, clean carts will get notices saying they've done a good job.
Residents who have contaminated carts can receive a variety of notices. Those with minimal contamination will get a similar notice attached to their cart saying "oops" and telling them they have improper materials inside. Those carts are turned around so that drivers don't pick them up.
Carts that are more contaminated are turned around and residents receive warning letters.
Some carts are emptied and put into bags to be left with more forceful warnings to residents.
Pictures are often taken inside the carts to document the violations. Trying to recycle improper materials can result in fines -- although that's a rare occurrence -- or simply removing the recycling cart from the residence.
The Blue Crew aims to minimize contamination in carts so that no fines or warnings have to be issued. The crew has been around for six years, but only in the last few quarters have the contamination numbers dropped, showing their efforts haven't gone out with the trash.
"Absolutely, to move from over 30 percent [contamination] in some cases to around 14 percent like it's been the last two quarters, it's really a significant change and it makes a big difference," Mote said.
In addition to being good for the environment, the reducing of contaminants also saves the city and taxpayers money. The city made around $3 million off of recyclables last year. That money went into the Solid Waste Fund and helped keep residential rates down.
"So it's a benefit to the entire city to divert this material out," Mote said.