Blue bins

Blue bins for recyclables and gray garbage bins line a street in the historic Sunset Heights neighborhood in April.

El Paso’s recycling program has been dumped, for now.

City officials announced last week that the recycling program would be halted due to a staffing shortage they attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.

Weekly trash and recycling collection requires about 80 drivers, but the department is about 20 short due to sickness and vacancies, according to a news release.

From Dec. 1 until further notice, households are asked not to put out their blue bins and recycling goods.

The city’s Citizen Collection Stations will continue to accept recyclables. All five sites will be open starting on Dec. 1.

The program was already facing some hurdles and had gone through some changes before last week’s announcement.

In April, closer to the start of the pandemic, the city started its “Blue Every Two” campaign that cut down the number of times the blue recycling bins would be collected, from every week to every two weeks.

The city this year also stopped providing a blue recycling bin to every new household. Instead, the program was converted to an opt-in option, where households could request a bin and receive one after taking a class.

The classes were slated to be in-person but were converted to online-only after the pandemic hit. With recycling collection now suspended, the opt-in program has been halted as well.

Ellen Smyth, director of environmental services for the city of El Paso, told El Paso Inc. in April that only about 50% of households had been putting out the blue bins every week, and that many were not full and some were contaminated with non-recyclable products.

The city’s recycling program began in 2007.

The Environmental Services Department will hold two virtual town hall meetings to address the recycling program suspension and provide information about options for recyclables. They will be held 5:30 p.m. Dec. 1 and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 8.

The city works with Friedman Recycling to run the recycling program. The company buys recyclables from the city.

Morris Friedman, president of Friedman Recycling, said the majority of their work with the city is on hold due to the recycling program suspension, but that the company is still taking in some recyclables from offices or from collection stations.

“We support the citizens and residents of El Paso,” Friedman said. “It’s a tough time for everybody. The city needs to do what it has to do to keep essential services going. Hopefully it’s a temporary suspension, and we look forward to getting back to normal business.”

Although the blue bins won’t be collected until further notice, those who are able to store their recyclables can do so and turn them in when blue bin collection resumes, the city says.

Recyclables can also be placed in the gray bins alongside normal trash, but will be sent to the landfill and not recycled.

“The hope is that the residents will continue to put materials in blue containers and wait for services to start up again,” Friedman said.

Email El Paso Inc. reporter Sara Sanchez at or call (915) 534-4422


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