Recycling Contamination Rate

Desired Trend


Current Trend

Baseline (2017): 16%
Current (2022): 20%

Theme Efficient


The weight of unrecyclable materials as a percent of the total load (annual monthly average)

Why is it Important?

Recycling facilities shut down for hours when contaminants jam machinery. These malfunctions also put workers at risk. Common recycling contaminants are “tanglers,” which include plastic bags and hoses, as well as items such as food waste and Styrofoam. Reducing, reusing, refilling, repurposing, and repairing are the most efficient and effective means of reducing consumer waste. These practices reduce the amount of space and money that society must devote to landfills. When items do need to be recycled, it’s important to put the correct items in the bin to keep the recycling process efficient, affordable, and sustainable.

According to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, in most cases, the process of manufacturing products from recycled material uses less energy than when raw materials are used, translating to fewer greenhouse gas emissions. The agency used the U.S. EPA Waste Reduction Model (WARM) to estimate that recycling, instead of landfilling, in North Carolina in 2022 resulted in a GHG emissions savings of 1,136,754 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Recycling also creates jobs and economic activity. According to the Recycling Economic Information Report, in a single year, recycling and reuse activities in the United States accounted for 681,000 jobs, $37.8 billion in wages, and $5.5 billion in tax revenue. This equates to approximately 0.5% of all employment, 0.6% of wages, and 0.8% of tax revenue.1

How are we Doing?

The contamination rate at the Republic Services main materials recovery facility (MRF) increased from an annual monthly average of 16% in 2017 to 20% in 2022.The recycling contamination rate is measured by the weight of unrecyclable materials present in a load of recycling, as a percentage of the total weight of the load. Common unrecyclable “contaminants” include Styrofoam, plastic bags and film, and food waste. Recycling contamination rate at Republic Services main MRF is used as a proxy for the majority of the region. This facility receives materials from every county in the St. Louis region but not all recyclables from the region. In addition, the MRF receives recyclables from outside the St. Louis area, but it is estimated 80% of the recyclables received at the MRF are from the St. Louis area.

From 2017 to 2019, there was a decline in the contamination rate, which may have been in part due to a recycling education campaign coordinated by members of the OneSTL Materials & Recycling group. Currently, members of the working group are testing other methods of outreach. One method, a billboard and targeted ad campaign, saw a 20% reduction of contamination in targeted routes in North St. Louis County after only six weeks. To learn more about the working group’s regional recycling education campaigns, visit


Geographic Level

Republic Services collects recycling from all eight counties of the St. Louis region as well as from many other entities within a 150 mile radius of St. Louis.


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2020 Recycling Economic Information Report, November 2020, accessed at Note: Values are based on the latest data at the time of the report, which was for 2012.

2 The average for 2022 is based on data for eight months due to data not being available for all months.


Data Sources

Republic Services