The City of Greensboro has a Communications and Marketing Department. It also has a Field Operations Department that is in charge of recycling. Maybe someone should introduce the two.

Field operations does an amazing job of collecting garbage, recycling and yard waste, including leaves in the fall, but it’s not good at marketing.

I doubt that the Communications and Marketing Department would be very good at collecting garbage, recycling and yard waste, but nobody expects it to.

I received a news release from the Communications and Marketing Department last week about recycling. It tells me that the Field Operations Department is inspecting recycling containers and handing out tickets for people who put the wrong items in the recycling container.

I imagine they are going to be really busy because the city does a horrible job of letting people know what they can and can’t recycle. For example, in this news release, wouldn’t it have been helpful, since we are all be threatened with tickets, to have a list of exactly what can and what can’t be recycled? The press release has a few items that can’t be recycled, but why not include a comprehensive list?

Is it a secret? One reason for not including a list seems to be that the city isn’t exactly sure itself of what can and can’t be recycled.

If you go to the recycling webpage, it invites you to download a chart of what can’t be recycled. On that chart is large picture of a cooking pot.

If you go to the city website on recycling, there is a smallish, hard to read chart of what can and cannot be recycled. On this chart is a small picture of a cooking pot and it is on the list of what can be recycled.

I was hoping to be able to print out the chart of what can and can’t be recycled to compare the two, but you can’t print it as a chart. You can only print it as a part of the whole page, which makes it even harder to read.

The unprintable chart says that you can recycle pots and pans and has pictures of pots and pans. The printable chart says that you can’t recycle scrap metal and has a picture of a pot, ladle, knife, fork and something that looks like it could be a large paper clip.

I suppose to be a good recycler I have to take my printable chart (that I had to reduce to 60 percent to get it on a standard piece of paper) and the pot or pan in question and take them over to my computer to look at the unprintable chart on the screen and compare and contrast. Does my old pot look more like the unrecyclable one or the recyclable one? Who knows?

The unprintable chart that is on the website should be printable so that people could print it out and put it on their refrigerator. On the back it should have frequently asked questions, like what are you supposed to do with batteries. They are not listed on either of my charts as something that you can or can’t recycle.

Here’s another example of contradictions in the city’s own material: The printed chart says no food waste and has a several containers that appear to have had food in them. The unprintable chart has “all cardboard,” “all cartons,” “all containers.” And this unprintable chart has pictures of cartons and containers that look like they had food in them. One appears to say “butter” on the side, another says “yogurt,” but it’s small and of poor quality so it could say “better” and “yoyo.” It’s hard to tell. But the question is: Which is it?

Can you recycle food containers? The poster says no and the website says yes. If you don’t want a ticket from the recycling police, the best bet is to put those items in your garbage can because, while the city will give you a ticket and take away your recycling container if you violate its regulations on recycling – whatever they are – there is no penalty for putting recyclable goods in your garbage can.

For plastic bottles the unprintable chart says, “top on.” So if I have lost the top to the bottle does that mean I can’t recycle it? It doesn’t make any sense but then so little about these charts do.

This should not be difficult. The press release notes that Greensboro rejects about 22 percent from its recycling operation, where as most cities reject between 5 and 10 percent. So other cities are doing something better than we are, and my guess is that they make it clear what can and what can’t be recycled. I bet they have charts and posters that don’t contradict each other and I bet they do things like make those charts available to the public.

A few years ago our county editor, Scott Yost, finally gave up trying to figure out what could and could not be recycled. He put the recycling number in his phone and called every time he had a question.

That is one solution, but a better one would be to make clear, understandable lists of what can and what can’t be recycled to the people doing the recycling.

Certainly, if the city sent some folks with marketing experience down to the field operations office, they could come up with a program in no less than six months. It is, after all, government work, where everything takes 10 times longer and is twice as expensive as one would imagine.

The marketing department seems obsessed with videos, which certainly have their place. I like a good cute kitten video as much as the next person, but I don’t want to have to watch a cutesy video every time I’m trying to remember whether aluminum foil or a pizza box can be recycled. I want a list and some explanations. I know food containers should be rinsed out, but how clean do they have to be? And can you recycle them at all or is all that rinsing for naught?

There is an app you can put on your phone that will presumably answer all your recycling questions. But there are a lot of people living in Greensboro who don’t do apps.

I haven’t found the app to answer my questions much better than the website, and it is a bit clunky for anyone over 30 who doesn’t have a smart phone permanently embedded in their hand.

I suppose the city’s idea is that, when I’m standing outside with my arms full of refuse, I’m supposed to pull out my phone, go to the city recycling app and look up each item to see which list the app puts the items on. And since it is an app, and not a printed list, I should assume that the app is right and everything else is wrong.

Far better than giving people tickets for improper recycling behavior would be giving people information so they can recycle properly.