As Pittsburgh has watched the value of mixed curbside recyclables plummet while the global recycling market reacts to changes, officials are hoping that the behavior of sorting materials and taking them to one of its six drop-off locations will catch on. A free-falling second materials market as well as an end to its current recycling contract has the city “actively rethinking” its strategy.

While single-stream recycling — meaning putting all materials into one bin or bag — used to be profitable for cities like Pittsburgh, it no longer is. China, which historically imported most of the world’s single-stream recyclables, has tightened rules in recent years on what it will accept. “We need to get to the public and let them know that these are commodities,” said Teresa Bradley, recycling supervisor for the city’s Bureau of Environmental Services, which has a 2019 budget of $16.6 million.

An education blitz is planned for this summer, including mailing information to businesses, improving signs at its drop-off centers and providing larger dumpsters specifically for glass at three of its six drop-off locations.

In 2013, the city recorded $331,292 in total recycling revenue. Last year, it received $8,363 — but only from scrap metal, Ms. Bradley said. Meanwhile, the total tonnage of mixed recyclables that Pittsburghers are placing at the curb has remained the same, consistently hovering around 16,000 tons.

In other words: the city is now paying to collect those mixed recyclables that residents place in blue bags on the curb every other week. Last year, the city ended up in the negative, paying its recycling contractor Recycle Source $173,421 after it dropped off roughly 15,770 tons of mixed recyclables.

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