Recycling changes coming at Chatham County collection centers

Pittsboro, NC – Chatham County Solid Waste & Recycling (SW&R) is making several changes to recycling programs at its collection centers. Recycling markets have changed dramatically in the past two years, making it harder to recycle certain items. Plus, recycling in the U.S. continues to be contaminated. Contamination occurs when items that are not recyclable end up in the recycling bin.

All mixed recyclables go to a material recovery facility (MRF) to be sorted, through a series of machines and manual labor, and then the items are sent to a processor for recycling. MRFs have had to slow down their lines and add more people to try and reduce contamination and ensure the truly recyclable items are being sorted correctly. Individuals can help prevent contamination by making sure the correct recyclables are going in their bin.

“All recycling programs need to clean up their recycling stream, including Chatham County. We are making these changes to our program so our residents know that if they are putting the item in the recycling bin, it will be recycled,” said Kevin Lindley, Environmental Quality Director.

SW&R conducted a recycling characterization study in September 2019 to learn what is in the mixed recycling at its collection centers. The study found that across the 12 collection centers, there is an average contamination rate of 8%, which is very good. However, the study also showed that a lot of contamination comes from materials that are look-a-likes: items that look similar to items that are recyclable, but are not. There also seems to be confusion on what is recyclable in general.

Recycling Changes

Based on the current markets and the results of the study, SW&R will remove several items from the mixed recycling. Plastic clamshells, other to-go containers, rigid plastics, and aerosol cans will no longer be accepted in mixed recycling at its collection centers and main facility.

Clamshells are containers that have a hinged lid, like a berry container. Plastic clamshells and other to-go containers have a very small chance of being recycled as there are very few markets for them. There are also few recycling markets for rigid plastics, like toys and buckets. Additionally, plastic to-go containers and rigid plastics can easily end up being sorted with the wrong material, which leads to contamination. Plastic bottles, tubs, jugs, and jars are more easily recycled because they have established recycling markets and will continue to be accepted in the mixed recycling.

Empty aerosol cans are recyclable, but will no longer be accepted in the mixed recycling.  Aerosol cans can be put in the scrap metal bin to be recycled, and they must be empty.

Free Recycling Classes for the Public

In order to help educate the public SW&R is offering a week of recycling-related classes, November 12-16, 2019. Classes will cover what can and cannot be recycled, why recycling is so confusing, tours of the MRF in Raleigh, and composting. All classes are free and open to any age, but pre-registration is required. Visit the SW&R website and click on the “America Recycles Day” link at the top. Individuals can also call the main office at (919) 542-5516 Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Construction and Demolition Pilot Program

While some items are being removed from mixed recycling, SW&R received a grant to conduct a pilot program to collect construction and demolition (C&D) debris separately for recycling. The last Waste Characterization Study completed in 2017 found that more than 25% of the material that ended up in the landfill was C&D. The C&D collected will go to a C&D facility where the items will be sorted; many C&D materials can be recycled or reused.

The pilot program will start November 15, 2019 and run through May 15, 2020. C&D collection will be available at the Hadley and Goldston Collection Centers only. Hadley is located at 65 East Perry Road, Pittsboro and Goldston is located at 7285 Pittsboro-Goldston Road, Bear Creek. The centers will accept C&D materials from residents with a current decal who are doing the work themselves. Contractors and businesses are not allowed to use the centers.

The centers will accept the following C&D materials: cabinets, carpet and padding, countertops, doors, flooring, gypsum/drywall, insulation, plumbing fixtures, shingles, siding, tile, windows and wood/lumber. Please visit  for more details on what can and cannot be accepted along with any special instructions. The large load policy still applies, so residents are able to bring one pickup truck-size load in a seven-day period.

Once the pilot is complete SW&R will determine if it will continue and/or expand to other centers.

For more details, please visit or contact the SW&R main office at (919) 542-5516.

Shannon Culpepper, MPA
Recycling and Education Specialist
Chatham County Solid Waste & Recycling

Office: (919) 545-7874