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Two local recycling programs have limited the hours or accepted materials at several recycling drop-off locations in response to unrecyclable trash and other contamination — a problem that makes recycling overall more expensive and time-consuming.

Starting Aug. 1, the city of Siloam Springs’s public drop-off on East Ashley Street will no longer be open 24-7. Instead residents can drop off their cans, plastic and glass bottles, cardboard boxes and paper during business hours, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday. The change means city staff can keep an eye on what people leave behind.

Kevin Whaler, the city’s solid waste superintendent, said the 24-7 option was always a double-edged sword, giving residents convenience while also making it more likely that some would leave the wrong things, including tires, TVs, toilets and household garbage. (Tires, electronics and other special waste categories can go to a neighboring drop-off two Saturdays a month.) The problem hasn’t improved, and truck breakdowns and other issues mean staff members can’t spare the time to pick through and remove the offending items.

The change follows Benton County Solid Waste District’s recent decision to no longer take paper at its rural drop-off trailers in Centerton, Decatur, Garfield, Gentry and Gravette because similar issues were ruining the material. Those trailers now take only cans, plastic bottles and cardboard.

The bigger picture

We’re sharing these changes to help local residents navigate their programs, but also because they illustrate important truths in recycling. Recyclables have to be largely free of contamination, whether it’s trash, liquids from drinks or simply other recyclables put in the wrong place, because they’re bought by manufacturers that will use the materials to make new products. You wouldn’t want to bake a cake with sugar that happened to be 10% sand. The same is true for those manufacturers.

Because of that fact, contamination makes it more difficult to run recycling programs and, by extension, to offer them to the public. Time is money, and it takes time to deal with garbage. By recycling the proper items in the proper places, you help your recycling program remain successful and easy to use. Always check what your program accepts, and leave out everything else.

Finally, such rules demonstrate that Northwest Arkansas recycling programs are genuine, that they’re being careful with their collected materials and sending them to a manufacturer that will use them instead of to the landfill. Whaler said reactions in Siloam Springs have generally been positive partly for this reason.

“In every other town I’ve lived in, recycling has always been provided during specific hours, with workers who monitor what is placed in specific containers. One place had a guard rooster!” one commenter wrote on the city’s Facebook page after the announcement. “People who wish to recycle will find the time and energy to abide your new regulations. This is great and I’m happy the city has decided to monitor more closely. Work smarter, not harder!”