RICHMOND, Va. -- As a business owner, Ajay Brewer considers it part of his civic duty to recycle.
"As a business we're creating so much trash you might as well be part of the solution," Brewer said.
But, the owner of Brewer's Cafe in Manchester admits he doesn't always know what qualifies as a recyclable.
"I probably throw away things that I should not throw away as in, in the recycling bin," Brewer said.
And he's not alone.
We followed workers with TFC Recycling on their route in Richmond's Fan district.
"There's only like two or three good cans in this alley," one of the employees said. "We've got a plastic bag and trash mainly."
The workers found cart after cart stuffed with items that can't be recycled: plastic bags and trash.
"This another bad can, you got trash, and paint right here," the worker said.
CBS 6 learned the problem is bigger than just a frustration for recycling workers.
The head of the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority, Kim Hynes, said it's actually causing the recycling industry to struggle.
"In the past the revenue from the sale of recyclable materials covers the cost of sorting, bailing, transporting it to market. If the revenue is less, or we're not getting as much revenue because of contamination, that drives the cost of recycling up," Hynes said.
For starters, plastic bags slow down the recycling process and lead to contamination.
Tad Phillips, the general manager at TFC Recycling in Chester, said plastic bags frequently force a plant shut down.
"If you put a bag in there, it's rotating and it wraps around the shaft, wraps around the shaft, the machine gets clogged up, we can't run," Phillips said.
While plant workers try their best to sort out contaminants like plastic bags and trash, Phillips said it's near impossible to remove everything.
That causes TFC to spend money transferring the garbage to the landfill to the tune of roughly $18,000 a month.
"We're trying to figure out a way to get people to stop putting this material in their recycling," Phillips said.
To help, CVWMA created "oops" stickers.
They will be attached to any recycling carts containing items that can't be recycled, and the cart will not be emptied until it only contains recyclable items.
"We just have to mark on here that we can't accept it, and then we have to tag the cart," an employee said.
And while Kim Hynes said she understood customers may be frustrated by the stepped-up enforcement, she called it necessary.
"I think it will eventually come back around, but I think we have to do all that we can now to get a cleaner product, so recycling is sustainable for the future," Hynes said.
Essential viability Ajay Brewer believes will have a major impact globally and locally.
"This neighborhood is not a very clean neighborhood, so there's an immediate impact before you can look at any harmful effects that's going on with this planet," Brewer said.
You can find out what you should and should not recycle on the CVWMA website.
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