Recycling contamination costs us all
Nearly one out of every four items found in Cabarrus recycling carts doesn’t belong there—a problem known as recycling contamination. Carts across Cabarrus have been flagged for having contaminates that range from plastic bags to car engines.
This contamination issue is impacting the environment -- and our wallets.
That’s why officials from Cabarrus County and the cities of Concord and Kannapolis are stepping up efforts to inform the community of the long-term effects of contamination and encouraging use of the CARTology app, which makes recycling right easy and convenient.
‘When in doubt, throw it out’
Cabarrus County Environmental Management Director Kevin Grant, who manages the County’s Household Hazardous Waste Facility, Construction and Demolition Landfill, and Recycling Convenience Centers, recently updated County officials on the increased amount of trash and recycling coming to local facilities. More people stayed home during the pandemic, which increased general household waste and produced additional waste related to home clean-up and repair.
“We all know that recycling is good for our environment,” Grant said. “But sometimes we just don’t know what items are acceptable for recycling. When in doubt, throw it out.”
Here are a few easy ways Cabarrus residents can make an impact on recycling contamination:
- Trash your plastic bags
Never place grocery or trash bags in your recycling cart. Do not put bags full of recyclables into the cart. Bags tangle the sorting machinery, causing shutdowns while workers hand-cut the bags to remove them — a process much like detangling a vacuum cleaner brush. Most grocery stores collect plastic shopping bags at front of store.
- Keep tanglers out
Items like garden hoses, light strands, electrical cords, ropes, towels and clothing can have the same impact as plastic bags on machinery.
- Eliminate food contaminants
Carts filled with unsuitable items damage otherwise perfectly good recyclable materials. This often happens with food waste. Containers lined with remnants of mayonnaise, peanut butter and other foods are not cleaned and the remaining substance spills and transfers onto other recyclables. The same is true when oils and foods soak into takeout boxes (like pizza boxes) and containers.
- Download the CARTology app
The CARTology app uses a Waste Wizard to guide users through what items can be recycled. It’s available for free to anyone in the County. Residents in Concord, Harrisburg, Kannapolis and unincorporated areas of Cabarrus County can also use the app’s collection calendar and set user notifications. The app is available for iOS and Android devices, and also as a website at https://recollect.cabarruscounty.us/.
Sorting the recycling problem
Recycling participation increased in 2011 when Cabarrus County and the cities of Concord and Kannapolis changed to single-stream recycling. Residents received one large cart for all their recyclables and the list of recyclable materials was extensive. Collection trucks picked up the mixed goods and sent the materials to the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Charlotte.
Then the markets changed. China stopped accepting recyclable material from the United States.
Countries that received recyclables soon ran out of space and put limits on the amount of contamination they would accept. MRFs also limited what they would accept and passed the responsibility on to households.
Just one contaminated household cart could cause an entire recycling truck to divert to the landfill. Non-recyclable items that make it to the MRF can break machinery, causing long delays. These challenges increase the cost of processing recyclables and decrease the lifespan of our Speedway Landfill.
It’s become essential for recyclers to know what belongs in the trash and what can go to recycling.
Recycling education and outreach
The CARTology app can help eliminate many questions residents have about solid waste and recycling. It’s also more effective than printed materials because it receives regular updates that match changes in the recycling market—something flyers could never keep up with.
Grant says that feedback about the CARTology app has been positive. Residents appreciate its features and easy-to-use format.
North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality awarded Cabarrus County, Concord and Kannapolis a grant for $8,600 to help raise awareness of the app and to help reduce local recycling contamination. The funds went toward four Recycle Right billboards across Cabarrus County, three locations along Highway 29 (near the Speedway, in south Kannapolis and a digital billboard just before highway 85) and one on Hwy 24-27 in Midland.
Along with the billboard campaign, the agencies will take the messages to social media, where they hope to engage resides with educational data and instructional videos.
To receive additional education on how to recycle right, residents can follow the hashtag #RecycleRightCabCo across social media.
For more information on this and other solid waste and recycling initiatives, visit:
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