Recycling during Mardi Gras? You’ve got to be kidding.

Article by Sarah Ball 

Mardi_Gras_trash-1298932694If your house is anything like mine, somewhere there is a large and growing pile of glass bottles, newspaper, and cans: things you know you shouldn’t throw away but aren’t quite sure what to do with. It seems it would be easier to turn my cans into a Mardi Gras costume than turn them in to be recycled. In the midsts of Carnival, where recycled goods are as common as the leaves on the ground, I’d like to help answer some of your recycling questions.

Since Katrina, recycling in New Orleans has not been for the weak at heart. Maybe you’ve enlisted the help of a private company to carry away your recyclables. You might be one of the heroic citizens who drive, every Saturday, to deliver their cans and cardboard to the drop off at Elysian Fields. Maybe you make chandeliers out of beer bottles.

Or, perhaps, it seems like too much of a hassle and you’ve given up entirely. For several years after Katrina the city gave up entirely, and only recently instated a drop off site.

But the city has finally committed to reinstating curbside recycling, and there are rumors that this is beginning just after Mardi Gras (the season we need recycling most). In January, the Times Picayune reported that this service would start on March 15. Today it is less certain.

Both Richard’s Disposal and Metro Disposal, who share responsibility for most of the city’s trash pickup outside of the French Quarter and CBD, report that they do not know when recycling will become available and that they are currently waiting on the city to finalize paperwork for them to include it in their services. An employee at the city’s Sanitation Department confirms that they are waiting for the city on the wording of the contracts. Their current estimate is that recycling services will begin in June or July of 2011. We’re all crossing our fingers.

In the meantime, there are a few options available:

  • Private companies like Phoenix Recycling ( will do residential curbside pickup for $10-15 a month, and they accept plastic containers #1-#7, aluminum or bi-metal cans, paper, and cardboard. They do NOT accept glass or paper products with a high water barrier, such as milk cartons and pet food bags.
  • The Poohbah Group also does comparable commercial and residential recycling pickup, although their bi-weekly curbside recycling program does not include most of East New Orleans. Both companies have a one-stream program, so you don’t have to separate your recyclables anymore.
  • There is a drop-off site at 2829 Elysian Fields, free to New Orleans residents, that is open on Saturday from 8am to 1pm and accepts plastic, paper, cardboard, tin, steel, aluminum, up to 4 cars tires, but no glass. If you do have glass to recycle (it’s hard to avoid), the Target store in Metairie accepts glass as well as paper, metal, plastic, and grocery bags and is probably the closest and best option for New Orleans residents.

And many of us are wondering, why can’t we recycle glass? The reason it’s so hard to recycle glass in New Orleans is that there aren’t any facilities nearby that accept it, and as Phoenix Recycling explains, “If we ship a load of glass 1,500 miles, are we really coming out ahead in the equation? The gas may be more valuable than the sand saved.” The market for recyclable glass has also fallen, and so it is often not economically viable for recycling facilities to accept it. On the bright side, there are some exciting possibilities for pulverized glass, from eco-friendly countertops to restoring barrier islands. In fact, what if we just ground up all of the glass in New Orleans and used it to fill in MRGO?

There are a few things you can do to make it easier for the facilities that recycle your waste:

  • It’s fine to include plastic caps in recycling, but first remove them from the containers. This allows liquid inside to evaporate and makes sterilization easier.
  • Flatten all cardboard boxes and don’t include food-contaminated items like pizza boxes.
  • Wash out food residue like yogurt and peanut butter, although soda and juice containers are fine as is.
  • And some good news: you don’t have to remove labels from cans, those plastic windowed envelopes can go straight in with the other paper products, and you don’t have to worry about staples, either.
  • When it comes to glass, a good rule of thumb is only containers that came with food in them should be recycled. This means no cups, mirrors, auto glass, windows, etc. These items likely contain ceramics or other contaminants that can ruin an entire batch of recycled glass. In fact, and this can be tough to swallow, most recycling facilities advise that if you’re not sure if something is recyclable, either find out or throw it away.
  • For less traditional items, Village Green at the New Orleans Public Library ( has a great list of drop off sites for batteries, spare bike parts, toner cartridges, cell phones, clothing, etc. so before any of these go in the trash you should check and see if there’s someone out there who can use them.

Thanks to all of you have not given up on recycling, especially during this season. Because of citizens who demand this important service, the city has committed to getting it done, and it can only continue to improve. Stay tuned and Happy Carnival!