ST. LOUIS ( -- Have you been getting a lot of deliveries during the pandemic? You are far from alone.

Experts say residential waste is on the rise right now, with boxes, to-go containers and even disposable PPE. But does that mean recycling is also on the rise? Not necessarily.

“We have limited resources, the world has limited resource,” said Terri Zeman.

Twice a week, Zeman makes the short trek down her south St. Louis alley to dump in her carefully-sorted recycling.

"It's extremely important to me. reduce reuse, recycle,” she said.

Of course, many of us rinse, consolidate, separate and take out the recycling. And you might assume all of it gets recycled, right?

“I'd like to think its at least 80-90-percent,” said Zeman.

In fact, it’s less than that.

The City of St. Louis says about 17,000 tons of recycling gets collected every year.

A recently obtained city document made it seem like 75 percent of all the stuff dumped in the blue dumpster actually goes to the landfill.

But News 4 dug deeper with the city, who says the number is more like 25-35 percent of all recycling ends up in the landfill instead.

That’s a number still far too high for some city leaders like Alderwoman Cara Spencer.

“We owe our community an explanation and I have hope to get one,” Spencer said.

So News 4 wanted to see how St. Louis stacks up.

In St. Louis County, Republic Services says just about 20 percent of recycling they receive, for various reasons is, instead taken to a landfill.

Louisville, Kentucky officials tell News 4, just 10 percent of their recycling gets trashed.

And in Indianapolis, 33 percent of recycling collected at their community drop-off locations, ultimately gets tossed.

News 4 took the issue to the St. Louis’ Executive Director of Operations Todd Waelterman. He says part of the problem is recycling's less profitable.

“Honestly, it all comes down to value, what's it worth. back in 2010, this material had a huge value, the Chinese were begging for our paper and we were getting $20 a ton and since then, that market has dried up,” Waeltermann said.

But he says the other trouble is what's called contamination.

“There is a lot of things happening to it, it can get wet, it can get nasty,” he said. 

Just one plastic bag, put inside the recycling dumpster, can contaminate and toss out the whole load.

“Trying to help the people understand how to recycle and how to do it right,” he said.

But the city notes that they don't track what actually gets recycled. They only collect the trash. A third-party vendor makes the call.

Board President Lewis Reed says he thinks it's clear, "We need a new plan and we need it now."

At the start of the year. the city put out a request for bids to overhaul the current trash contract that is set to expire in 2022.

But the process hasn't gotten far and Reed and other aldermen are now pushing for change.

“We need to have something else in place a contract that does not create an incentive to send recycling to a landfill, otherwise we need to tell everyone in St. Louis, don't bother, put it in the trash dumpster because that's where its going to end up any way," said Reed.

Company New Plant Energy is hoping the contract. 

They want to take St. Louis' trash and turn it into pellets that can be burned as fuel for manufacturers.

They've even selected a site and gotten some permits.

The company, and other connected entities have made donations to campaigns of Lewis Reed, Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page.

“I think we should look at that, why is this being pushed so hard by one particular company,” she said.

Alderman Heather Navarro has reservations.

“We haven't seen these take off an be successful and as an environmentalist, I have to say that any sort of energy that requires us to create garbage is not good in the long run,” Navarro said.

Currently, the city pays millions every year to the current contract-holder.

“We as residents are paying for this and we should make sure its as effective as possible." 

“It is extremely disheartening,” said Zeman. 

She says she is doing her part and the city should be doing more.

“They shouldn't be lying to us, if they aren't going to recycle, just say we aren't going to recycle anymore,” she said. 

Waste Management, the current contract-holder, says the amount of recycling in St. Louis that goes to the landfill is upwards of 40 percent. 

News 4 reached out to New Planet Energy, who is bidding on the new contract. They sent a statement from their CEO:

We only want a fair and honest chance to show the people of St. Louis what we can do to make the City a greener, more sustainable City, and create good paying jobs.  We just want to be heard.

The city counselor's office has cautioned the aldermen against undue influence from any company that might be bidding.               

News 4 will keep you updated in the contract process.

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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