By Tim McNicholas

CHICAGO (CBS) — Hammond could join a growing list of cities eliminating or scaling back their recycling programs.

Mayor Tom McDermott said he’s looking into whether the program is still worth the money after China stopped buying much of the recyclables in the United States.

The City of Hammond has a recycling deal with the company Republic Services.

“I also want to clean the oceans. I also want to save the planet, of course. But it’s not working right now because the market has changed because of a decision made in China,” McDermott said.

As of last year, China only accepts items with 0.5 percent contamination or less. That means greasy pizza boxes or ketchup bottles that are not clean might not make the cut.

Republic Services tells CBS 2 they used to sell about 30 percent of their recyclables to China. Now, that number is lower than one percent.

Mike Henry, a Republic general manager at the Crestwood facility, said China’s decision has also forced Republic to be more stringent and send more items to landfills. Henry said Republic has found other recycling centers outside of China, both domestically and internationally, that will take recyclables. However, the proceeds that Republic gets for the recyclables now is nowhere close to what they were getting before China’s decision.

“We are spending a million dollars a year [on the program],” McDermott said. “Am I spending money just to make people feel good?”

Ariel Dolton is a Hammond resident and avid recycler. She said the city should keep the program.

“It’s worth it because it’s helping to keep all this stuff out of the landfill. Out of the oceans,” she said.

McDermott said he’s planning a visit to the Republic facility where Hammond’s recycling winds up. He said he’d like to figure out how much of it is actually being recycled and decide his next move from there.

“It makes you wonder if this million dollars can be used in a better way,” McDermott said.

According to McDermott, the City of Hammond’s contract with Republic ends in 2021. He said the city could potentially buy out of the contract.

According to Republic, about 30 percent of what they pick up from recycling routes across the nation turns out to not be recyclable, due to contamination and because people are confused about what to recycle.

They have launched a recycling website called to try to educate people on the best methods.

Several other U.S. cities have scaled back or eliminated their recycling programs due to the decision from China.

Tim McNicholas