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New, Strict Recycling Rules Becoming A Challenge For Communities

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Mountains of glass and plastics are piling up at Recycle Source in Hazelwood with no place to put it all.

China doesn't want most of our recyclables anymore and Malaysia is sending them back. Pittsburgh and other towns across the region aren't alone in grappling for answers about what to do.

"This is happening across the country. Actually, this is happening around the world," says Pittsburgh Recycling Coordinator Teresa Bradley.

The whole recycling landscape is rapidly shifting as municipalities try to get you to change your habits.

What little market there is for recyclables is very selective.

Now, suddenly, you're on the hook for determining what is and what isn't recyclable.

At Pittsburgh's Recycling Collection Center in the Strip District, they now only want certain types of plastic.

You used to have to check the number at the bottom of a container to know if it was recyclable. Now, the city says you can only recycle plastics with a bottle neck, as long as they're under three gallons.

Clamshell produce containers, wide-lipped coffee containers, coffee cups and Solo cups are no longer recyclable.

Newspapers and cardboard egg cartons are still okay, but when it comes to cardboard pizza boxes, only the tops that are not covered in grease are now recyclable.

But the big victim of the recycling glut is glass. When co-mingled with other recyclables, glass often breaks and contaminates the entire load.

So now, only separated, clean glass is recyclable, but some places aren't taking it at all.

For example, Waste Management, which has the recycling contract for Mount Lebanon and other South Hills communities, no longer takes any glass. It's now up to the residents in those communities to voluntarily transport any recyclable glass to various drop-off spots.

"The focus is more on recycling right to see that the stuff actually gets recycled rather than recycling in quantity. So, it's more about quality rather than quantity," says Mt. Lebanon Assistant Manager Ian McMeans.

And the changes don't end there.

Over the next two years, Pittsburgh will distribute some 13,000 new recycling containers as it phases out blue bag recycling, which they say will lead to less contamination.

And since the market for recycled material isn't likely to improve, the ultimate goal is to move beyond recycling. The new mantra is "reduce and reuse," by doing things like bringing reusable bags to the grocery store and your own cutlery to work for lunch.

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