Spotlight on Recycling in Cape Girardeau by Guest Blogger Next Gen Green

Mary Rose Roberts is a professional journalist. Follow her blog at, like Next Gen Green on Facebook or become a fan on Twitter at

Whether you are an environmentalist or a businessperson, recycling makes sense. With landfills reaching capacity, pollution creating health concerns and the cost of goods rising, making an effort to participate in Cape Girardeau’s curbside recycling program can help improve the environment and save taxpayers money.

Cape’s curbside pilot programs were established in 1991, when the city decided to set out trailers in select subdivisions. Such a program was first mandated by state Senate bill 530. S.530 signed into law in the late 1980s. At first, the bill mandated residents recycle in order to reduce the amount of trash placed in landfills by 40 percent. However, the mandate was challenged and became goal-orientated.

The trailer pilot-program was “a disaster,” said Pam Sander, the city’s public works administrative officer.  So the city next assigned special bags to specific residents to gauge participation levels. Select residents were encouraged to sort their recyclables, including paper, plastic, cardboard and aluminum, then later steel cans, junk mail and plastic grocery bags.

To make it easier on residents, the city introduced the single-stream system using automated trucks in May 2010. Items now can be put together in city-distributed carts for recycling. The same items were recyclable; however, glass is not. Instead, glass products must be brought to a Cape Girardeau fire station, or the Osage Centre and the A. C. Brase Arena Building.

“We can’t accept glass because of the contamination of the recyclables,” Sander said. “You can’t get broken glass into the paper, the cardboard or any of the other recyclables.”

The single-streamed system accepts many items (see below). For example, residents can place into bins magazines, corrugated cardboard, chip boards, soda bottles, cereal boxes, frozen pizza boxes, newspapers, catalogs, junk mail, paper, aluminum, steel cans, tin cans, household plastic containers, plastic shopping magazine and newspapers. It also includes plastic containers, which the city asks are rinsed out.  (Not from Cape? Watch this demo of the automated service)

Styrofoam is not recyclable, Sanders said.

While many area restaurants provide paper-based takeout boxes, such items are only recyclable if they are cleaned thoroughly. Sanders said the problem is that takeout food containers could be contaminated.

“It’s not something that is on the list of acceptables because the majority of people don’t check them close enough to realize there is food contamination,” Sander said. “If such items are clean, pickup probably won’t leave your recyclables in the trash. But if it isn’t clean, you could possibly have your whole cart left if they catch something in there that could contaminate the load.”

From an environmental point of view, tossing recyclable materials into a landfill adds to the area’s pollution program. In addition, there is less landfill space to contain the products, and items emit undesirable gases as well as contaminate groundwater.

“Environmentalists attribute global warming to trash being in the landfill. In addition, new products being made versus recycled use more energy and natural resources as well as cause more pollution,” Sander said. “We know what happens when things go into the landfill. They don’t decompose. Your plastic will lay there for 500 years or more.”

Recycling also helps the U.S. economy, as it is often cheaper to make new items out of recycled items. Steel cans, for example, can be recycled endlessly as there is no wear-out issue on the material.

“Tossing materials in landfills is no longer cheaper because of fuel prices, landfill regulations, and shortage of space,” Sander said.

The good news is that participants in the recycling program citywide continue to increase, said Michael Tripp, the city’s solid waste superintendent, a job he’s held for 20 years. Average stops picked up weekly last year equaled 4,209—a significant increase prior to 2009 when only 2,763 households participated.

In addition, recycling materials shipped out instead of land filled in 2011 equaled 2,189 tons, another significant increase compared to 1,763 tons in 2010.

“When we went to the single stream, we really saw the numbers jump,” Tripp said.

The city also shipped out 492 tons of electronic waste in 2011 during the first year of recycling e-waste, including TVs and computer monitors. To recycle e-waste, residents must bring items to the city’s recycling facility at 207 Southern Expressway open 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

There is a cost for dropping off TVs and monitors. Costs range from $10 to $35 to drop off materials.

While the cost may be a bit of deterrent, residents should realize the importance of not placing such items in a landfill—which will sit there for centuries and never naturally decompose.

“The biggest thing is to take trash out of the landfill,” Tripp said. “Just think of how many tons we’ve already kept out of the landfill.”

Tripp said he’s seen a lot of change since he first started when the city picked up trash twice a week—at a significant cost to taxpayers. Now they have one trash and recycling pickup a week. Results were best seen when the city started automated trash pickup and single-stream recycling.

“That has made the biggest change as far as people really getting onboard with the recycling effort,” he said. “You can really see the numbers that have jumped. It nearly doubled overnight for the last year and half and more people are jumping onboard.”

What can you recycle?Newspaper
Junk mail and Residential Paper
Envelopes (window envelopes also acceptable)Stationery
Copy paper (all colors)Computer paper
Notebook paper
Typing paper
Gift wrap
Brown paper (grocery) bags
Corrugated Cardboard
Cereal type boxes, soda cases, shoe boxes
Frozen pizza boxes
Household plastic containers
Shopping bags
Newspaper wrappers
Aluminum, Steel and Tin Cans
What can’t be recycled?
Foil lined items like cookie and potato chip bags
Plastic wrap or waxed paper
Hardbound books
Hazardous waste
Pesticide containers
Packing peanuts or bubble wrap
Paper plates, cups, towels, napkins, tissue
Diapers or toilet paper
Pet food bags
Plastic utensils
Plastic labeled “PLA”
Takeout food containers and glass
Pizza delivery boxes

For more on the City’s solid waste program, visit our website:

Next-Gen Green is a professional journalist who believes living simply is the road to happiness. She has lived in San Diego, Denver, Chicago and now resides down south. Living in such unique environments has taught her about practicing green habits and the importance of sharing her mantra of simplicity with anyone who will listen. Contact her with questions or tips at