Rowan County recycling centers adapt to market changes

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 13, 2018

SALISBURY — If you’ve visited any of Rowan County’s seven waste disposal and recycling centers recently, you’ve probably noticed — yet again — that things are a little different.

The centers, which offer free recycling and per-pound waste disposal, changed how it handles recyclables earlier this year by no longer requiring residents to sort paper waste from plastics.

County Environmental Director Caleb Sinclair calls this “commingled recycling.”

“Commingled recycling is easier for the public,” Sinclair said. “Generally, it increases the recycling quantities because it’s easier.”

But the centers had to switch back to sorting the recyclables early this month.

The switch comes in light of recycling struggles nationwide that have been developing for years, Sinclair said.

“It’s my understanding that recycling is in a bind right now because the markets have pretty much collapsed for the time being,” said Sinclair. “China used to purchase the majority of the nation’s recycling products.”

Sinclair said China has become stricter about the materials it will accept after years of abuse and substandard shipments of recyclables. Curbside recycling was often contaminated with nonrecyclable items, trash or food waste.

Sinclair said the facilities that previously sorted and baled commingled recyclables have become backlogged as they try to sort through the waste.

As standards for acceptable shipments rise, the backlog has worsened.

“These (facilities) that we have within our reach for our community are backed up,” said Sinclair. “They’re backed up across the nation.”

But he said Rowan County is in a position to revert to its prior means of operation without creating an excess of recyclables with nowhere to send them.

“We’re uniquely in that position because we came from that source-separated world,” he said. “We haven’t lost that infrastructure.”

The county is equipped to process and bale its recyclables for shipment to other industries.

The only cost comes in once again requiring residents to sort recycled goods: mixed paper, corrugated cardboard, glass bottles and jars, aluminum and steel cans, and No. 1 and No. 2 plastic bottles only.

Mixed paper products cannot have touched food directly.

Sinclair said No. 3 through No. 7 plastics are more “troublesome” because there are not as many processors in the current marketplace.

“We hope that this issue with the state of recycling markets resolves in the near future so we can go back to providing commingled recycling,” said Sinclair. “Rowan County supports your recycling efforts, and we really want to continue to provide excellent service. We’re happy to answer any questions about particular items. Just give us a call.”

The Rowan County Office of Environmental Management can be reached 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 704-216-8589.