Grocery bags, pizza boxes not allowed: Wilson has tips for recycling bin use

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While plenty of Wilsonians are jumping on the recycling bandwagon, city officials are urging residents to brush up on what should and should not be trashed.

“The No. 1 item people put in the recycle carts that they shouldn’t is grocery bags. Our vendor doesn’t accept them, so if you want to recycle a grocery bag, take them to your local grocery chain,” said Scott Hedgepeth, environmental services manager. “The other two things that we get often are garden hoses and clothes.”

It’s more than just an inconvenience, though. The city carries loads to the county landfill, then all of Wilson County’s recyclables are taken to a vendor in Raleigh where the load is sorted.

“If we pass the threshold limit of 20 percent with non-recyclable products, we get fined. The county is handed an assessment, and it is handed down to us,” Hedgepeth said. “It is a double-edged sword, too, because we not only get the fine, but we’re also charged for the garbage that has to be sorted out and hauled off. That is why it is so important that we put together a clean product.”

In addition to the top three non-recyclables mentioned, Hedgepeth said the grease seeps into the cardboard on pizza boxes thus, they cannot be recycled either.

“Food waste can cause a contaminated product, but if folks give a quick rinse to any metal or aluminum cans before putting it out for recycling, we can have a cleaner product,” he said.

Hedgepeth said the environmentally friendly aspect of recycling isn’t the only perk. In fact, the city pays $14 more per ton for garbage than recycling. To encourage more recycling, the city recently shifted from 18-gallon bins to 96-gallon carts, which are collected every other week instead of weekly with the smaller containers.

“There are 20,4000 collection points in the city and that includes some small businesses, residential households and some apartment complexes,” he said. “That number has dramatically increased from 10 years ago when we started with about 1,500 collection points. We’ve handed out just shy of 13,000 blue roll-out carts in a year and a half.”

And the amount of recyclables generated by city residents also has increased dramatically.

“Looking at the numbers from, say, five years ago, the city was doing around 400 tons of recycling a year,” Hedgepeth said. “This past fiscal year, we hit 2,000 tons. Our hope is the expansion into downtown and a couple other projects will push us over 2,500 tons by July 1, 2019.”

While many folks know about the widespread coastal damage to residents and businesses in the wake of Hurricane Florence, Hedgepeth said it’s also had an impact on recycling newsprint since a paper mill was lost. For that reason, the city has a growing stockpile waiting to be recycled.

“Boxes are the most profitable item we can have in recyclables, so we encourage folks to break them down and put them in the cart, but if they can’t, call us and schedule a pickup or use the Fix It Wilson app,” he said. “If everybody would contact us about boxes, we could bale them ourselves and sell them. Last year, we recycled 700 tons of boxes, and you’ve got to realize how many more were just thrown away.”

Environmental services staff members are available to give presentations on recycling to civic groups, schools and other organizations. Call 252-399-2485 with questions or concerns. For more information on recycling or garbage collection, visit www.wilsonnc.org/public-works/environmental-services/.