The ‘chasing arrows’ myth: Recycling passion high, know-how not so much

Under the watchful eye of City Hall colleagues awaiting their turn, Christopher Myers, left, and Kendall Huff compete in a game that tests knowledge of materials’ recyclability. Myers is Covington’s Historic Preservation & Planning Specialist; Huff is the City’s chief Systems Analyst/Project Manager.

COVINGTON, Ky. - Quick, test your recycling knowledge. 

Question: Which of these items belong in the City of Covington’s residential recycling carts? 
  • A: Batteries.
  • B: Light bulbs.
  • C: Aluminum foil.
  • D: Yogurt cups.
  • E: Lids for carry-out coffee. 
Answer: None of the above.
Yes, it’s a trick question, but it speaks to common misconceptions about recycling in the City (more on that below).
First, the good news: Recycling is more popular in Covington than ever before, said Stephanie Bacher, the City’s Solid Waste & Recycling Supervisor. 
  • In the year-long period that ended June 30, residents in Covington recycled 2,366 tons of material in their curbside carts, up from 1,985 tons two years earlier - which is a 16 percent increase. 
  • And as of two months ago, 55.7 percent of Covington households recycled, up from 46.4 percent less than three years earlier and substantially better than the national average of about 34 percent. 
Now, the bad news (or rather the “we can do better” news): Some residents are being overly generous in what they throw in their carts, i.e. throwing in a lot of things that don’t belong.
“The enthusiasm is a great thing,” Bacher said. “Covington residents are embracing the need to save our planet. We don’t want to suppress that. We just need to fine-tune the implementation.”
To do both things - to build enthusiasm and education on what to recycle - Covington recently celebrated national “America Recycles Day” with an event at City Hall. The event included exhibits on recycling, compost, and trash; games that tested knowledge of recycling; and a question-and-answer session to clear up misconceptions and explain the recycling process.
“It was a fun day, but it demonstrated that we have work to do - even among city government workers - in educating people about ‘how’ and ‘what’ to recycle,” Bacher said.
In that vein, here are examples of what should not be put into the recycling cart for weekly pickup:
  • Plastic 6-pack rings.
  • Light bulbs.
  • Carry-out coffee cups and lids.
  • Styrofoam.
  • Aluminum foil.
  • Candy wrappers/snack bags.
  • Red plastic cups.
  • Food packing “clamshells.”
  • Dairy/yogurt cups.
  • Plastic cups, plates, and flatware.
  • Window glass and dishes.
But the most widespread misconception, Bacher said, has to do with the “chasing arrows” symbol.
“Many people believe that if a piece of plastic has the ‘chasing arrows’ around a number, it can be recycled,” she said. “That’s not necessarily true. That symbol and number actually represent the type of plastic that the item is made of.”
In Covington, the City’s provider - Rumpke Waste & Recycling - has established guidelines about what recyclable materials it accepts: paper and cardboard, glass bottles and jars, plastic bottles and jugs, metal cans, and cartons. Pictures of those “acceptable” items can be found HERE.
Items should not be put in bags but left loose in the cart.
Residents who take the “Covington Recycling Pledge,” located HERE, are eligible to win a $100 gift card from Rumpke.
Covington Solid Waste & Recycling Department Coordinator Sheila Fields said the City Hall event was important because the City wants to lead by example.
“We are committed to learning the right way to recycle so that we can support our community and residents when they have questions,” Fields said. “We also want to be ready to learn new practices once the time comes to expand the program.”
The “What can I recycle?” reminder is a precursor to a “Recycle Right” initiative that the Solid Waste & Recycling Division will be focusing on in the coming year.
One phase of the initiative will focus on residential curbside collection. Another phase will collaborate with bars and restaurants, since they generate a lot of recyclable material. Already the City is working with a handful of restaurants as part of a pilot project.
“The takeaway here is that everybody in Covington - and every business - can do their part to leave this world a better place for our children and grandchildren,” Fields said.
For more information about recycling in Covington, click HERE.
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