Q: I live in Lewisville and we have recycling every other week. I have read that since China quit taking a lot of recycling, that some recycling goes into landfills. What is the status in Forsyth County? Are we wasting our time separating some kinds of items?

B.M.

Answer: As we have explained previously, the ban from China mostly impacts states on the West Coast and doesn’t affect local programs, which are generally focused on the domestic market. According to Minor Barnette, head of the county’s office of environmental assistance and protection, recycling approved items is still worthwhile. A bigger problem is that contaminated items sometimes lead items put in the recycling to have to go to the landfill.

“In Forsyth County and North Carolina, it is still clearly beneficial, both environmentally and economically, to properly separate and prepare recyclable items to keep them out of the landfill while conserving natural resources, energy, water and providing manufacturers with renewable feedstock,” he said. “But under the current market conditions, it has never been more important to ‘recycle right’ by only placing the appropriate items in the recycling cart or bin.”

Contamination presents big challenges and can render recyclable materials unfit for reuse, Barnette said. “The list of acceptable items can seem a little confusing but needs to be followed carefully,” he explained. “And all food residue must be rinsed from containers, whether plastic, glass or metal.”

A list of recyclable materials accepted at the county’s convenience centers and collected in most local curbside collection programs can be found on the website linked here: http://www.forsyth.cc/EAP/Recycling.aspx#recycle

A significant amount of contamination results from what he called “wishful recycling,” when unacceptable items are tossed in the bin with acceptable recyclables in an effort to prevent them from ending up in the landfill, including plastic cups, lids and straws; food trays; grease-soaked pizza boxes; rigid plastics such as toys and flower pots; dishes and ceramics; mirrors; expanded polystyrene foam (styrofoam) including foam egg cartons; wide mouth plastic containers; cookware; and plastic bags.

“If the amount of contamination is so great that it is not cost-effective to separate clean recyclables for reuse, then it can become necessary to dispose of the contaminated mixed materials instead of processing them for recycling,” Barnette said.

He often hears questions about recycling plastics from people wanting to know why only plastic bottles are accepted locally when so many other items are stamped with a ‘chasing arrows’ triangle with a number in the middle, indicating that it is recyclable.

“Plastic bottles for water, milk, beverages, condiments and laundry products are typically manufactured from pure plastic resins through a process called ‘blow molding’,” he said. “Wide mouth plastic containers, rigid plastic items and other plastic items besides bottles are typically made using a technique called ‘heat injection molding’ which requires additives to be blended with the plastic resins.” Those additives alter the plastic resins and make them incompatible with the recycling process used locally.

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