- What happens to recyclables I put in my blue cart?
The City of Durham contracts with Sonoco Recycling in Raleigh to process all recyclables. Most local municipalities and counties either use Sonoco or Recycle America. We collect the contents of your blue cart curbside, deliver them to the City’s Transfer Station on E. Club Blvd, where it is all loaded into trailers and delivered to Sonoco for processing. Sonoco has a combination of machines and people sorting the recyclables, and once sorted, they are bundled and sold to be reused/recycled. This video takes you on a tour of Sonoco’s facility: https://youtu.be/zN9BYsnVwHM
- I heard all recycling is now going to the landfill. Is that true?
No. These rumors pop up from time to time on a neighborhood listserv or Reddit, and no part of it is true. All recyclables that are collected are recycled. They are delivered to our recycling processor, Sonoco, who sorts, bundles and sells the recyclables to be recycled. Unfortunately contamination is an issue though. Well-meaning residents engage in wish-cycling (throwing items in the recycling that they hope are recyclable, but they aren't). Those items have to be sorted out and that trash is then sent to the landfill at extra cost. This is why it is so important to only put recyclables in the recycling.
- Some communities aren't recycling anymore. Will this happen in Durham?
Durham’s City Council reaffirmed its commitment to recycling by continuing to approve contracts with Sonoco despite the financial challenges that are sometimes presented. Recycling markets can fluctuate quite a bit. Some years the City makes hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenues from recyclables. Other years, it can cost the City nearly a million dollars to have them processed. Many communities that cut recycling programs are now re-evaluating as those decisions tended to be short-sighted. There are other environmental and social factors that are part of the equation, so Durham proudly continues its robust recycling program.
- How can I be a better recycler?
Recycling can be really easy. You can, but do not have to get caught up in the granular details of what is recyclable. It's better to err on the side of not including contamination as that can actually lead to fewer items being ultimately recycled as whole loads can be spoiled at times by contaminants. Stick with what you know -- bottles, cans, milk jugs, paper and cardboard, and you'll be an extremely effective recycler!
- What do Durham residents recycle the most?
Recycling is measured by weight. The recycling stream coming from Durham basically breaks down as follows:
- Cardboard – 27.1%
- Glass – 22.1%
- Mixed Paper – 21.3%
- Contamination (non-recyclable items placed in the blue carts) – 19.5%
- PET (eg. Plastic drink bottles)– 4.5%
- Steel – 1.5%
- Aluminum – 1.4%
- HDPE Color (eg. Shampoo bottles – 1.2%
- HDPE Natural (eg. Milk jugs) – 0.8%
- Other Recyclable Plastics (eg. Some clamshell containers) – 0.6%
- What items are worth the most?
Recyclables are commodities, and those values fluctuate over time depending upon the markets. As you can imagine, cardboard was in high demand during the pandemic when people were ordering deliveries instead of venturing out. It became quite valuable for a while. Aluminum is pretty consistently valuable. On the other hand, glass is in much less demand and presents other challenges to recyling processors, so generally costs money to have it recycled.
- Can you start collecting recycling every week instead of every two weeks?
This question also sometimes comes in with the idea to move trash to every other week and do recycling every week. There are a few reasons that isn't advisable at the moment, but we keep performance measures and evaluate all programs continually. We can promise that the idea of garbage collection every other week sounds much better than it actually is, especially in the summer months. Currently, Durham residents produce an average of about 1,500 pounds of garbage per household annually, and about 400 pounds of recycling annually. Residents can recycle all they want as we will provide up to 4 recycling carts for free. It would cost a significant amount to buy additional trucks and hire additional personnel and would provide little to no return. The environmental harm from running the additional vehicles would far outweigh any slight incremental environmental benefits that would be realized from higher collection frequencies.