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SpotlightDC-funded Investigation Shows DC Sends Most Recycling To Dumps -- And Rates Are Dropping

District residents diligently separate trash into separate bins: one for landfill and the other – they are led to believe -- to be recycled, reused, repurposed. But an investigative series funded by SpotlightDC and published in Capital Community News revealed:
  • Less than 25% of DC’s trash gets recycled, well below the accepted national average of 30%.
  • Despite Mayor Bowser’s rhetoric about “Zero Waste,” the actual percentage of recycling is dropping every year.
  • 90% of trash separated for recycling in large apartment buildings actually goes to landfills or incinerators.
  • DC’s DPW rarely inspects waste streams to enforce recycling rules.
Journalist Mark Smith trailed trash trucks, inspected transfer stations, toured recycling facilities, unearthed documents and interviewed dozens of sources to expose the systemic failures built into DC’s system to adequately recycle waste. His reporting is also pointing out how the District can actually improve its dismal recycling record.
Thanks to your contributions this investigative series will force the District to monitor and improve its recycling system so your efforts to separate waste will not be in vain!
Your contributions allow SpotlightDC to fulfill its mission in two ways:
  • Supporting important journalism in the DC region.
  • Incubating a cadre of young journalists with mentoring and opportunity.
LISTEN UP! Hola Cultura has turned last summer’s investigative series into DC’s heat islands into a podcast that will begin airing July 1 with episodes continuing through the summer. Both the print series published in Washington City Paper and the current podcasts are funded by SpotlightDC together with Fund for Investigative Journalism.

The podcast will be hosted by Marcelo Jauregui-Violpe, a journalist and video producer who led a youth reporting group and co-wrote the investigative series on D.C.'s heat islands while he was an editorial fellow at Hola Cultura in 2021.

He is now co-producing Hola Cultura’s podcast along with these four members of Hola Cultura's summer reporting team, below from left to right: DC High school intern Talia Jackson; Christine MacDonald, Hola Cultura executive director and editor; DC college intern Jennifer Alfaro; and Lucía Matamoros, Hola Cultura's assistant editor.

  • Potomac River Rapist podcast
  • Sports Betting
  • Affordable Housing
  • DC’s Cannabis Economy
  1. Send a short query to or
  2. Following a positive response, apply for funds with a proposal of 750–1,000 words describing the project, reporting path, impact, budget and deadlines.
  3. Members of SpotlightDC’s Advisory Board evaluate the proposal and make recommendations to the Board of Directors for funding, after opportunities to revise.
Local watchdog journalism is on life support — let’s revive it together.

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