7 ways we’re recycling wrong in Raleigh (and how to correct it)

Recycling makes a difference for the environment — when it’s done correctly.

Placing the wrong items in your curbside bin can disrupt the recycling process, impacting the correctly recycled materials flowing through recycling plants in and around the Triangle.

“Yes, you should recycle, but you need to make sure you’re recycling right,” said Patrick McDonald, a senior manager at Sonoco Recycling in Raleigh.

We talked to waste experts in Raleigh to learn about the mistakes many of us make when we recycle. Here are our seven biggest errors.

Mistake No. 1: Throwing electronics in curbside recycling

Fact: Electronics can and should be recycled, but they can’t be recycled through regular curbside pickup in Raleigh.

One reason is that lithium-ion batteries, rechargeable batteries found in electronic items like laptops and power tools, can seriously damage recycling plants. The equipment can cause the battery to spark, and the paper and cardboard materials around the battery act as kindling, which can potentially cause catastrophic fires.

“There’s confusion with these batteries because some of them do have a recycling sign on them. So people think ‘There’s a recycling sign, so let me put it in my bin,’ not even thinking this can cause a big issue,” said Dejan Muminovic, plant manager at Sonoco.

But even if your electronics do not have lithium-ion batteries, don’t throw them in your recycling bin.

Here are three ways we can properly dispose of electronics in Raleigh:

Bring items to a special county facility: Wake has three Multi-Material Facilities, which can accept electronic waste. We can bring televisions, cell phones, computers, microwaves or any other corded device to 9029 Deponie Dr. in Raleigh from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. There are also facilities in Apex and Wendell.

For more information, search “Multi-Material Recycling Facilities” at wakegov.com.

The recycling center at select Lowe’s Home Improvement locations (including the North Raleigh store at 4601 Capital Blvd.) accepts cell phones and rechargeable batteries, as well as plastic bags and compact fluorescent light bulbs. Call your local Lowe’s, or other neighborhood hardware store, to see if you can recycle these items there.

Anything With A Plug Recycling is a local company that holds weekly mobile drop-offs across the Triangle to “help people dispose of unused, broken or unwanted electronics in an environmentally safe way.” The group also takes care of flat-fee pick-ups. Visit AnythingWithAPlugRecycling.com to learn about drop-off sites, upcoming weekly collection spots and/or schedule a pick up.

Request a Special Garbage Collection: Electronic appliances can be picked up by the City of Raleigh for $50 per four cubic yards (enough to fill the bed of a standard pickup truck). Electronic waste, known as eWaste, includes small household items with plugs, such as computer monitors, toasters and microwaves.

To request an eWaste pickup, call 919-996-3245. For more information, search “Special Garbage Collection” at raleighnc.gov.

Mistake No. 2: Putting batteries in the recycling bin

Fact: Most household batteries (such as alkaline batteries) should be disposed of as hazardous waste, said Maine Johnson, communications analyst for the City of Raleigh’s Solid Waste Services Department.

Alkaline batteries: There are three hazardous waste drop-off points in Wake County for disposal of alkaline batteries. There’s one in Raleigh, located at 9037 Deponie Dr. It’s open every day except Sunday. Visit wake.gov and search “Household Hazardous Waste Facilities” to learn more.

The US Environmental Protection Agency says most communities will accept alkaline batteries in household trash; however, the City of Raleigh asks residents to properly dispose of these batteries as hazardous waste.

Rechargeable batteries: These batteries, found in items such as cordless power tools and video cameras, can be recycled through private businesses, such as at Lowe’s Home Improvement and The Home Depot. They can also be brought to Wake County’s hazardous waste facilities.

Mistake No. 3: Mixing plastic bags in with other recycling

Fact: Plastic bags should never be put in curbside recycling bins. They can be recycled, but not that way.

Wake County Solid Waste’s Bianca Howard likes referencing BagAndFilmRecycling.org to find drop-off sites for plastic grocery bags and other thin plastics, like cling wrap.

From that site, we can search for Raleigh, Durham or any other Triangle town and find nearby drop-off sites on the website’s handy map. Most grocery stores have bins for recycling plastic bags.

Note: Paper grocery bags are recyclable and can go inside curbside bins.

Mistake No. 4: Removing bottle caps from soda & water bottles

Fact: We should keep bottle caps screwed on tightly before tossing plastic bottles into Raleigh recycling bins.

As soda bottles or plastic orange juice and laundry detergent jugs move through the full recycling process, the thin plastic container and thick plastic bottle cap will be separated.

In fact, removing the plastic bottle caps makes it harder for them to get recycled, since their small size makes it easy for them to slip through the cracks of the recycling process.

Plus, Raleigh’s bottle caps actually get recycled too! They can become a new bottle cap or a whole different material, like a car battery casing.

Mistake No. 5: Throwing recyclable materials into the trash

Fact: No one is going through the trash to pull out recyclable materials.

If it’s in the trash, it goes to a Wake County landfill, and those are not searched by people or machines looking for recyclable materials.

This means all the recyclable materials in Raleigh’s garbage cans are going to sit in the landfill, even though they could have been sent to Sonoco and turned into new items.

Mistake No. 6: Putting takeout containers and cups in with recycling

Fact: Many single-use plastics can’t be recycled by Sonoco’s machines. This includes most restaurant takeout containers.

Some restaurants use recyclable takeout containers, and some are even compostable.

Mistake No. 7: Recycling pizza boxes

Fact: The ability to recycle pizza boxes varies across municipalities, but it’s a hard “no” at Wake County Solid Waste Facilities, Howard said. This is because of the food residue left on the cardboard.

For the same reason, recycling haulers and municipalities all across the state discourage people from recycling paper napkins, paper plates and paper towels.

Some Wake County Convenience Centers accept these materials along with their food waste. Site #4, located at 3600 Yates Mill Pond Rd. in Raleigh, accepts pizza boxes, single-use napkins and more. These materials are composted rather than recycled.

Note: NC State’s pizza box composting program is only available to students.