You may have heard the city’s Environmental Services Department has begun stepping up its recycling enforcement. Their latest effort to educate and correct is to send inspectors out into the neighborhoods to spot check the inside of blue recycling bins.

If they find you’re mixing contaminants such as Styrofoam or plastic grocery bags with recyclable items your blue bin will get red-tagged and turned around – a sign to the garbage truck driver to pass up your bin.

If you get three of the so-called “oops tags,” your blue bin will get taken away.

When we brought this up recently on Mike and Tricia Mornings, our listeners had questions. Why did I get tagged? What happens after the third strike? What if I just throw everything in the gray bin? Do I even have to recycle?

I reached out to Environmental Services for answers to your questions. Below is what I learned from Tammy Fonce, Lead Public Affairs Coordinator for the City of El Paso.

Why did I get tagged?

Simply put, you put something in blue that should have gone in gray. Paper, plastic, cardboard, and aluminum and steel cans are the only items allowed. Here are the items that most likely got you tagged.

City of El Paso

How does the process work?

The first violation will get you red-tagged and a notice left on the bin. Correct your mistake and put it back on the curb the following week.

A second tag gets you another notice and a letter is sent to the water account holder to advise them that their bin will be retrieved on their next (third) violation.

I got my third tag, now what?

Environmental Services repossess your blue bin and your household’s participation in the program will end. To get out of blue bin jail you can:

o Take a class, which is offered once a month. Once you’ve completed the course, a blue bin will be delivered to your home (the standard $25 service fee is waived)

o Wait a six-month probationary period. After the six months, you can call to re-participate in the program (you will incur the $25 service fee)

City of El Paso

Can't I just throw everything in the gray bin? Will I get fined?

Yes, you can, and no you won’t. ESD does not fine residents.

The recycling program’s goal is to save landfill space. Currently, 15% of the material collected on an annual basis which includes contamination found at the recycling facility, and trash collected in the gray bins is sent to the city-owned landfill.

“At the landfill we dump, bury, and compact the trash into a ‘cell’,” Fonce explains. “The current cell is 50 acres and cost us approximately $8 million dollars. This cell will last us approximately 8 years. Ultimately, landfill costs are incurred by taxpayers. Recycling makes sense from an environmental perspective, as well as a financial one.”

Do I have to participate in the recycling program?

No, it is voluntary. If you choose not to recycle, call 311 and they'll send someone to pick up the bin (the $25 service fee is waived).

Your monthly $19 “Gray Trash Bin” fee will remain the same. ESD does not charge an extra fee for recycling.