Conserve Cape Fear: What can and cannot be recycled at New Hanover County’s facility

Updated: Nov. 29, 2019 at 4:26 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Mounds of trash move along a conveyor belt at a breakneck pace, with workers sorting out by hand what cannot be recycled.

More than 25,000 tons of recyclables per year are processed at the Materials Recovery Facility, located along U.S. Highway 421 North, which serves New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties.

New Hanover County partners with Sonoco Recycling, LLC to process the materials, which are then shipped worldwide through the Port of Wilmington.

With China and other countries no longer accepting a majority of our recyclables, out of the seven types of plastic, the facility only accepts Plastic #1 and #2.

“With the current market conditions we have, it’s not recycle more it’s recycle better,” said Joe Suleyman, the director of the New Hanover County Environmental Management Department. "China has every right, quite frankly, to ban the material they’re getting from us because it’s so contaminated. We got away with it for so long and we got too reliant on China to take our junk that we didn’t invest in our own domestic infrastructure, so it was a double whammy. One, they cut us off and two, we weren’t ready to take on the problem on our own.”

Suleyman explains, the best thing you can do is to shop smarter and try to avoid buying plastics that cannot be recycled.

Cardboard, mixed paper, glass and metal, plus plastic one and two are accepted at the facility.

How glass is recycled and reused

One of the biggest mistakes Suleyman sees is people trying to recycle plastic bags, which the facility does not accept.

“The biggest issue we have here is plastic bags and film," he said. "Plastic bags and film are recyclable but the problem is once it gets in to the equipment or wraps around the axles and causes clogs.”

Plastic bags can be recycled at UNCW’s recycling facility. Many grocery stores also have bins where consumers can recycle plastic bags.

Suleyman said the other common mistake customers make is bagging their recyclables.

He said the bags clog the machines, which shuts down the facility.

He said it happens about three times a day. It takes 15 to 20 minutes for crews to unclog the machines, which hurts productivity at the plant.

More information about recycling is available here.

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