Jewel Allen was stunned the first time she watched sanitation workers toss her carefully sorted recycling into the same truck as her trash.
She’d signed up for DeKalb County’s residential recycling program because she wanted to keep paper and plastic out of the landfill. Seeing it all mixed together, Allen questioned the point of all her sorting.
More than 115,000 homes throughout DeKalb participate in the county’s recycling program. But Allen and others in her Stone Mountain neighborhood say the county hasn’t provided them with separate recycling collection for months, and their complaints have gone nowhere. Some still dutifully sort, while others have given up.
“We’re just not getting those services anymore,” Allen said.
It’s not clear how long her neighborhood’s been without the service. Allen first noticed it in February. Normally, she’d be at work when crews come by but she happened to be home. Allen assumed it was a one-off fluke, but for the last six weeks, she’s been home on medical leave and says she’s still seeing trash and recycling mixed.
Allen said she’s called the sanitation department several times to report the issue, and was told a truck was out of service.
A sanitation worker who didn’t want to give his name told a reporter the truck was the issue, too. The worker was part of a crew seen commingling trash and recycling along Fourth Street, a few streets over from the Pepperwood neighborhood where Allen lives. The crew stopped collecting recycling after being approached.
County officials said this week there are no issues with the truck but didn’t explain why crews have been commingling trash and recycling in the area or for how long. It’s not clear if any other parts of the county are experiencing similar issues.
Spokesman Quinn Hudson said in an email they don’t have a record of Allen’s calls and didn’t realize there were problems in Stone Mountain until The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reached out. The one report of commingling from her neighborhood is from September 2022, he said.
The sanitation department has now assigned two crews and trucks to the area in response to the concerns, according to Hudson. Previously, there was one crew that was supposed to service recycling and trash separately.
Staff are reminded weekly not to mix recycling and trash, Hudson said.
“The management team with oversight for this area is continually monitoring recycling collection to ensure timely and efficient servicing for the Pepperwood community,” Hudson said.
It’s unclear how widespread the issue is in the Stone Mountain area. Teryen Thompson, who lives in the neighborhood next to Pepperwood, said she hasn’t had issues. She watches for the trucks closely because her son Daryl is three years old, and it’s the highlight of his week. Two different trucks service her house and pick trash and recycling separately.
Pepperwood residents said it’s frustrating to see their recycling mixed with trash.
Gregory Parker said he takes his glass bottles to the DeKalb Farmers Market — the county doesn’t collect glass through its residential program — because of how important recycling is to him. But he said there have been times he’s just thrown away recycling because he feels defeated.
“Sometimes I just dump everything into one bin because I know they’re going to come by and put everything in one truck,” Parker said.
Nick Berquist said he still separates his recycling just in case.
“You’re trying to do the bare minimum, the least you can do as a citizen,” he said. “But you can’t really provide it’s actually getting where it needs to go.”
DeKalb County recycling:
The county picks up residential recycling throughout unincorporated DeKalb, as well as Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Decatur, Stonecrest, Lithonia, Tucker, Pine Lake and Stone Mountain. Recycling is included as part of residents’ annual sanitation assessment fees, and is supposed to be taken to the county’s Central Transfer Station, then loaded on tractor trailers and taken to the county’s recycling processor, Pratt Industries.
By the numbers:
Through August, crews have collected 4,296 tons of recycling. The amount of recycling has declined for the last several years, from a high of 14,471 tons in 2020. It’s not clear what’s contributing to the decline.
What to do:
Anyone who observes instances of trash and recycling being commingled should call the DeKalb County Sanitation Department at 404-294-2900, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.