Where Does Our Recycling Go?

With growing concerns and awareness of waste generation, fluctuating recycling markets, and talk of recycling being a ‘hoax’, residents have reached out to ask about where their recycling is sent after they put it in their blue cart. Orange County sends our recycling to a recycling processor. When materials are properly prepared, residents and businesses in Orange County can be assured that those materials will be recycled into new products! 

The materials are not landfilled, shipped to unverified overseas or domestic markets, incinerated or otherwise improperly discarded. Most of the products are used here in the southeastern US to create new products and, in doing so, reduce landfill use, create jobs and save natural resources. For additional info, please visit Southeast Recycling Development Council (SERDC.org) or YourBottleMeansJobs.com 

 Perplexed About Plastics?

Plastics recycling remains complicated. By far, the best thing you can do is to reduce your overall plastic usage. Clean and empty plastics should still be included in your recycling IF THEY ARE: bottles, tubs, jugs and jars.

Two of the largest, most innovative plastics processors are in Reidsville, NC. Unifi is a processor of #1 PETE plastics and creates fibers with recycled plastics to make products such as jeans, outerwear, car seats, and curtains. Envision processes #2 HDPE plastics. They sort the plastics by color and sell the plastic pellets to companies that make flexible plastic packaging for food and beverages, as well as plastic bottles and containers. 

Steel cans are sold to smelters at mini mills, like those operated in NC by Nucor. Aluminum cans are sold to smelters as well – often in nearby states like TN. They make sheet that is sold to can makers or ingots (blocks of metal) sold to other aluminum product producers. The cardboard goes primarily to feed a huge plant in Hartsville, SC that has been operating there for over 100 years and just completed an $80 million upgrade.


As for glass – the County has a ‘Glass On The Side’ (GOTS) program to separate glass for recycling at all waste and recycling centers and drop off sites in the County. The County is doing this because of the savings and efficiency gains from separating glass bottles and jars. The GOTS program for bars and restaurants has added 25 new sites this spring, bringing total users to 85.  As of May 1, over 500 tons have been recycled separately since GOTS began in November 2019. Residents can still recycle glass in your cart and it will be processed at the Materials Recovery Facility. 

Orange County pays a per ton processing fee at the Materials Recovery Facility in Raleigh where mixed recycling is sorted and sold. However, the County receives $20 per ton for separated glass brought to a processor in Wilson, NC that cleans and color separates glass. They convert it into feedstock for new bottles, fiberglass insulation, sand blasting media and reflective paint beads, largely made here in North Carolina. Another benefit is the yield from source-separating (i.e. GOTS dumpsters) is close to 100%, while the yield from single stream (curbside recycling) is reported at about 60%. However, Orange County recommends against special trips to the Waste and Recycling Centers just for depositing separated glass. If you’re headed to the sites or at least very nearby, then, by all means, bring us your bottles and jars.