Residents and businesses in Charleston County enjoy the convenience of a single-stream recycling program. We can throw our paper, cardboard, soda cans and plastic containers all in the blue bin and – voila! – it’s all gathered and sorted by Charleston County.
But Charleston County is discovering a considerable increase in contaminants, or non-recyclable materials, showing up in those blue bins.
People often think something is recyclable and it’s not. And we get it, recycling can be super confusing. We’ve all paused, conflicted before the gray and blue bins, wondering which side to deposit an item.
“We want people to continue recycling, but we also want them to know how to recycle right,” says Christina Moskos, recycling coordinator for Charleston County Environmental Management.
To shed some light on how certain items could jam up the recycling stream, we asked Christina for a quick run through on the recycling process:
Once a truck deposits a load of recyclable at the recycling center, a front-end loader maneuvers the recyclables onto a conveyor belt, which sends the material though a processing system using a combination of screens, blowers, magnets and manual separation. Using a series of sorting screens, cardboard and paper are separated, placed on specific conveyor belts and then compressed by material type into large blocks, or “bales.” Aluminum, glass, steel and various types of plastics drop onto a different conveyor belt which leads up to a sort room. Here, plastics bottles and containers are hand sorted by workers according to type, and aluminum and steel cans are separated by magnets. Once separate, each specific material goes into a holding cell until there is enough of any one type of material to be baled into a compacted block of material. And lastly, these bales are stored until a manufacturer wants to purchase them and make the material into something new.
While recycling machines are made to deftly sift through these recyclables, they are not made to handle certain materials.
“This process is halted many times a day,” says Christina. “Items like garden hoses and plastic bags gum up the recycling equipment requiring workers to constantly stop the lines and unwrap plastic bags from rotating gears.” A process which is dangerous, costly and time-consuming.
So how you can stay up to date on what’s recyclable and what’s not? What resources can you consult when you’re questioning in which bin to place an item?
Charleston County Environmental Management Facebook page offers great pointers on recycling. Also, their website has a detailed list of recyclable and non-recyclable material.
But, while you’re here, check out these quick tips on recycling right:
– Many people will put their items in a plastic bag, tie it up and place it in the bin. Be sure to place your recyclable items loosely in the bin. (And, of course, no plastic bags!) “Soft” plastics, like plastic grocery bags, shrink wrap, and dry cleaner bags, are not accepted for recycling in Charleston County, but residents are encouraged to return these materials to a participating retailer to be recycled.
– As mentioned above, many of these recyclable items are hand-sorted by employees. So be sure to rinse off all food residue from recyclables. Not only is it not fun to handle items with days-old yogurt still in them, but the food will contaminate other recyclables, making them unfit for baling and recycling.
– Break down and flatten your cardboard before placing in the bin.
– And last but not least, if you’re unsure of whether or not an item is recyclable, consult the above resources and find out. Charleston County encourages residents and businesses to use the motto: “when in doubt, keep it out.” Use those above resources and stay informed. It’s great that you’re recycling, but it’s just as important to recycle right.