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Recycling Got You Confused? Here's some help so you can Recycle Right!
Friday, November 1, 2019

“It’s got a recycle symbol on it…all plastic’s recyclable, right?...this seems recyclable…? Ehh…I’ll just toss it in.” Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. A lot of folks admit to being confused about recycling. I’m Mandy, your environmental educator, and I’m here to help.

Let’s start with some background where I break down how this whole thing works.

Where does it go?

You place your black cart of mixed (aka comingledor single-stream) recyclables by the curb OR you drop off your recyclables at one of Cabarrus County’s convenience centers. A truck empties them and drives them to Metrolina Recycling Center, a material recovery facility (aka a MRF, pronounced merf). For what it’s worth, Metrolina is owned by Mecklenburg County and currently managed by Republic Services.

What is a MRF?

The MRF is the midway point between you, the consumer, and the manufacturer that turns your recyclables into something new, and it does basically three things.

1. Sort your recyclables by material type, basically glass, plastic, metal and paper. This is mainly done mechanically, but humans help, too.

2. Bale the material (yes, like hay). Metal, plastic and paper, that is. Glass is broken and contained in large tubs.

3. Sell the materials to manufacturers that turn them into new products.

It’s important to understand that MRFs are designed to separate recyclables into commodities, NOT to separate trash from recyclables.

Commodities

MRFs accept recyclables that have value and pay the bills by generating profit for the work of sorting, baling and marketing the materials. The value of each type of material (commodity) rises and falls just like in other commodity markets. As a result, the MRF gets to determine what it will accept in order to make a profit. This is why the list of acceptable materials sometimes changes.

Contamination

Trash or undesirable materials mixed in with recyclables is called contamination, and contamination reduces the value of commodities, threatening the recycling industry. In short, we want our MRF to make profit, because we depend on it for the recycling system to work and serve as an option for diverting waste from our ever-filling landfill.

The landfill

The CMS Landfill, located near the Charlotte Motor Speedway, is a place where household garbage from Concord and the surrounding areas is interred. Because the landfill is within the City of Concord, the City has a franchise agreement with the landfill. The tipping fees others pay to bring in trash are waived for Concord. This is key, because the landfill has an approximately 15 year life expectancy, after which Concord’s garbage will be sent to some other landfill with which we do not have a franchise agreement. The costs associated with transport and tipping fees will result in an increased cost to citizens for waste disposal. This is one of the reasons recycling right (and other methods of waste reduction) are so important.

So, what is acceptable for residential recycling?

The following list of acceptable materials applies to the City of Concord, City of Kannapolis, Town of Harrisburg and unincorporated Cabarrus County. There are a few items (once acceptable in Concord) that the MRF in our area no longer wants, including plastic tubs and shredded paper. Those have been removed from the list.

Don’t be a wishful recycler or a tangler.

Recyclable does not always mean acceptablefor residential recycling in your area. The recycle symbol might even be present on, say, plastic containers or plastic bags. Some coffee pods are even marketed as “recyclable.” These items are not wanted by Metrolina Recycling Center. Plastic bags are considered “tanglers,” along with electric cords, Christmas lights and garden hoses because they literally tangle up MRFs’ sorting equipment, causing the MRF to routinely shut down operations so workers can cut bags and other tanglers loose from the machinery. While plastic bags, film and wrap are not acceptable in your residential mixed recycling, they are accepted for recycling at many grocery and big box stores. Well-meaning folks often toss items into residential recycling that they’re not sure about. When in doubt, throw it out to reduce contamination and protect the viability of the recycling industry.

There’s an app!

There’s an app called CARTology to simplify things, available for Apple and Android devices. You can find it by searching for CARTology in the App Store (iOS) or Google Play Store (Android). CARTology lets users from Concord, Kannapolis and unincorporated Cabarrus County search the Waste Wizard to learn how to dispose of specific items, to look up their collection day, to sign up for notifications, to report missed collections and even play a recycling game. We encourage everyone to download it.

Learn More

Learn more at concordnc.gov/solidwaste. View a customized solid waste calendar and confirm your schedule at concordnc.gov/whatsmyday. For environmental education questions, you can reach me, your environmental educator, by email at smithal@concordnc.gov or call 704.920.5379. You can also find me on Facebook and Nextdoor.com. For questions about recycling or garbage service, contact Customer CARE at 704.950.5555.