Why you can't toss these into your recycling bin

Shredded paper

Paper is a popular recycling item so it may seem a bit puzzling that shredded paper is on the do-not-toss list for your curbside recycling bin. It's just too small for the sorting machines used at Mecklenburg's recycling processing facility. It can be composted, put in the recycling container at your grocery store or dumped in the garbage.

Learn more

Click here to read more about recycling in Mecklenburg County. 

Plastics: No styrofoam, take-out containers, plastic trays and plastic cups. And, of course, no plastic bags.

Okay, much of what we buy in the grocery store is packaged in some kind of plastic so it can be difficult to remember what is recyclable. Most plastic is allowed in the bins: including water bottles, detergent bottles, milk jugs, toys, wide mouth containers that hold margarine, yogurt and other foods. But don't recycle styrofoam, to-go boxes, plastic trays and plastic cups, the so-called Plastic Number 6.  In the world of plastics, which are classified by a number system ranging from 1 to 7, just think of Number 6, made of polystyrene, as hard to handle.

This plastic is so light that if it is put in the recycling bin it becomes contaminated with dirt and other materials. This also causes contamination of other plastics and makes them undesirable for sale to recyclers. Plus, there are not many vendors who want to buy and reuse Plastic Number 6 in other products.

Plastic shopping bags just cause headaches. They get stuck in the recycling processing machinery, causing mechanical problems. County officials urge residents to take the plastic shopping bags back to the grocery stores and other places where you got them. Or just throw them in the garbage, along with baggies and plastic wrap. It’s not a good idea to put recyclable items in plastic bags and then toss them in your curbside bin.

Paper plates and napkins

The primary reason for not throwing paper plates and napkins in your recycling bin is simple:  they have food residue on them. Many paper plates are also coated with a material that can't be separated during the recycling process. Recycling helps protect the environment but it also generates revenue for Mecklenburg County. The food on plates and napkins contaminates other recyclables, which means vendors will be less interested in buying them for reuse in their products.

Bottle caps and jar lids

Here's the rule to remember: if you take the cap or lid off of a recyclable container, such as a water bottle, don't put it back on before loading your recycling bin.  The small caps and lids are not friendly with the recycling processing machinery. Not only can they clog the machines, the caps and lids can become missiles under the heavy equipment and can be a danger to workers who help sort the recyclable items. It is okay, however, to leave lid attached to a tin can.

Pots and Pans

Yes, scrap metal is recyclable but pots and pans are too big for the county recycling processing facility, and like bottle caps and lids, cause problems with the machinery. If your old cookware is usable, donate it. If not, you can drop it off at one of the county recycling drop-off centers or sell them to vendors in the area who buy scrap metal.

Aluminum Foil and Aluminum Cooking Tins

These materials are not compatible with the county's recycling equipment. There are different types of metal alloys and the county processes only the one that is in metal cans to sell to vendors for use in other products. 

Glassware and ceramics

Put your glass bottles in the recycling bin but not your household glassware.  The ingredients used for glassware are different from what is used for glass bottles and jars. The two types of glass cannot be mixed for recycling.  Ceramics are incompatible with glass recycling, too.

Wire hangers

Resist the temptation to just throw hangers in the recycling bin.  They can get entangled in recycling machinery. So, think potential danger, to the machines and the workers. Take them to one the county drop-off recycling centers.

Light Bulbs

Light bulbs, incandescent and fluorescent, also troublemakers for recycling machinery. Throw the incandescent ones in the trash. The fluorescent ones can be recycled but should be taken a county drop-off recycling center.