Contaminated recycling costs Tucson thousands per month, inspectors checking bins

Published: Mar. 26, 2021 at 7:09 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Putting items in your recycling bin that don’t belong is costing the City of Tucson tens of thousands of dollars each month. This week the city began sending out inspectors to check what items people are putting in their blue bins.

“It could be like styrofoam, plastic bags or it could be something nasty like food waste, dirty diapers, we see dead animals all the time,” said Kendra Santucci, the Public Information Specialist for the City of Tucson Environmental & General Services.

She said these items account for about 30% of what’s being put in blue bins and the contamination is quite costly for the City of Tucson.

“People think we make money off the sale of recyclables, but in the last several years we started to lose a lot of money,” she said. “Just because of this contamination, we lose about $30,000 a month.”

A grant is paying for the inspectors to check bins throughout the city. If inspectors find items that do not belong, they’ll mark it with a tag. A warning tag allows a person to correct the issue and have their recycling collected next time, while other bins that cannot be fixed receive a rejection tag.

“For those bins that it’s just straight trash... a rejection tag. You get one time where we’re going to collect it as trash after,” Santucci said.

A person is charged $25 for a second rejection. If someone receives four tags over the 8-weeks of inspections, then their recycling bin will be taken away and they can’t recycle anymore.

Paper, cardboard, plastic and cans are all good to recycle. Find a full list of recyclable items, here.

The city is no longer accepting glass in blue bins, but you won’t be penalized if inspectors find it. Find a list of 21 sites throughout the city that accept glass recycling, here. Lids must be removed and containers must be clean and dry.

If you receive a warning or rejection tag on your recycle bin and think it’s incorrect, you can call 520-791-3171 or email

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