April 19, 2023

Recycle With the Earth in Mind 

Are we successfully reducing the waste in landfills and polluting our ecosystem?  

Twenty tons of our waste clanks, moves and shakes every hour on more than 100 different conveyor belts at Mecklenburg County’s Material Recycling Facility, that’s more lovingly called the MRF. But while recycling is in its name, are we successfully reducing the waste in landfills and polluting our ecosystem?  

At the recycling facility, each dump truck unloads eight tons of waste, everything from cardboard to plastic to aluminum. It then treks down the conveyor belts to be separated into the sorting cabins. But these belts abruptly stop again and again and again. 

The sorters pull anything off the conveyor belt that is not supposed to be there, from plastic bags to wire hangers and Christmas ornaments. But there’s so much impostor garbage it gets stuck in the machinery shutting down the facility and stopping work.

More than 20% of the garbage coming into the recycling facility is wish-cycled, meaning it’s not recyclable; we hope and assume it is.  

Since we cannot recycle wish-cycled materials, they get added to the trash headed to the landfill. There, it adds to the growing footprint and overall environmental impacts that harm the ecosystem on which all organisms, including humans, rely. 

How Do We Recycle Better?   

In Mecklenburg County, you’d be surprised at what is on the don’t recycle list, like plastic bags and shredded paper. Batteries can start severe fires at the plant.

Plastic take-out containers, even those holding grocery store fruit, need to be recyclable. The only plastic that should go curbside in Mecklenburg County is a jug or bottle with a neck.

All cardboard must be flattened. Pizza boxes must be clean. If there’s too much grease, it cannot be reused.  

You might be wondering…why is so much plastic that cannot be recycled in Mecklenburg County? It comes down to two reasons: cheap plastic and the facility’s machinery.  

Not all plastic is created equally, and for that plastic to be recycled, someone needs to buy it to make something else with it. You can’t do much with cheap plastic!  

On top of that, facilities are often left reactionary, falling behind by using old machinery to recycle new types of materials.

Big production choosing cheaply made plastics, incorrectly marketed as recyclable and in colors that facilities can’t sell, is a burden at home. But our future cannot just be about recycling better, but instead, recycling with resilience.  

That’s why reduction is vital! Here are some ideas you can implement right away: 

– Reusable water bottles and straws 
– Reusable shopping and produce bags
– Washable utensils for your lunch on the go
– Washable silicon sandwich and snack bags 
– Laundry sheets – some environmentally friendly companies now make soap sheets to eliminate plastic use!
– Dishwasher detergent tablets instead of liquid in plastic 
– Plus, check out ways to repurpose trash into art in one of our previous stories.

Want to learn more about recycling in Mecklenburg County? Find more helpful information in this related story by Queen City News.