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Knoxville receives results from recycling audit, beating national average

The city's recycling audit said 16.8% of its curbside recycling is trash, less than the national average.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — More than 80% of the recycling collected by the City of Knoxville is actually recyclable, according to an audit conducted by the City and its recycling collector WestRock. 

The audit report said 16.8% of what is collected is trash — lower than the national average. Cardboard is most commonly recycled, at 52.2%.

"There's a great market for it," said Patience Melnik, the city's recycling coordinator. "We're all clearly ordering a lot of things on the internet." 

Melnik said the market for cardboard is so hot that the city now accepts pizza boxes, even after they've had pizza in them. 

The good news, Melnik said, is that people aren't recycling glass bottles in their curbside bins. Those are only accepted by the city at recycling centers, and only 0.5% of the recycling collected from curbside bins is glass. 

The City of Knoxville has a voluntary recycling program. Melnik said she thinks that's why the contamination numbers are so low. 

"I think it means Knoxvillians are paying attention," Melnik said. 

She said the biggest mistake people are makings putting plastic bags in their recycling. 

"Anything you can wave around, anything flexible in terms of plastics should never go in the recycle bin," Melnik said. 

Melnik said Knoxville knows which plastics get recycled and which don't, but she wishes society didn't use so much non-recyclable plastic. 

"It's in our computers, it's in our cars, it's in our children's toys," she said. "It's everywhere." 

"Plastic is a problematic material and does not recycle easily," Melnik said. 

Melnik stresses that if you are putting recyclable materials in the bin, they will get recycled. The company that collects the recycling has to pay to take items to the landfill. 

She said people should continue to check with the city's website to make sure everything they recycle is recyclable. 

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