Mecklenburg County residents are encouraged to shatter their old recycling habits — by separating glass bottles and jars.
Technically, glass is still allowed in curbside recycling bins (as are empty aerosol cans, aluminum cans, metal cans, flattened cardboard, paper, and plastic bottles and jugs), according to Mecklenburg’s Wipe Out Waste Guide.
Yet people can go the “extra mile” to make the county more environmentally friendly and reduce recycling costs, Mecklenburg officials said on Twitter Monday afternoon.
“This is not a mandate. Please help us be more efficient,” Mecklenburg Solid Waste Management Director Jeff Smithberger told the Observer Tuesday.
Here’s what that would entail.
Head to a drop-off center
Rather than hauling all recyclables to the curb, consider bringing glass bottles and jars to Mecklenburg County’s drop-off centers, according to nonprofit organization Sustain Charlotte.
You’ll see big yellow dumpers labeled “Clean Glass Only” to deposit your items.
Drop-off centers are open from 7 a.m.-4 p.m. on Monday-Saturday, according to Mecklenburg’s website. Locations include:
▪ Foxhole Recycling Center: 17131 Lancaster Highway in Charlotte
▪ Hickory Grove Recycling Center: 8007 Pence Road in Charlotte
▪ Compost Central and Recycling Center: 140 Valleydale Road in Charlotte
▪ North Mecklenburg Recycling Center: 12300 N. Statesville Road in Huntersville
“Anything that can be recycled and given a new life, let’s do what we can within reason to make sure that items are recycled and not just put it in a landfill,” said Meg Fencil, director of engagement and impact at Sustain Charlotte.
Nearly 180 tons of glass were collected in those special dumpsters last year. Mecklenburg’s new goal is to reach 300 tons of “pre-separated non-contaminated glass,” Sustain Charlotte says.
Smithberger said recycling centers saw 785,000 visitors last year, though few people used the glass-only dumpsters. Mecklenburg will add more yellow dumpsters throughout the county soon, he said.
Which items are not allowed?
Before tossing glass and jars in Mecklenburg’s yellow dumpsters, make sure to remove caps, corks and lids. Labels can stay on the containers, Sustain Charlotte says.
Do not deposit windows, ceramic dishes, drinking glasses, eyeglasses, aquariums and picture glass, Sustain Charlotte says.
What’s a material recovery facility?
That’s where glass and other items are separated, after being collected in curbside recycling bins.
But the screening system isn’t perfect — especially for smaller items like bottle caps that can slip through — and lead to a “highly contaminated glass pile,” according to Sustain Charlotte.
What happens to a contaminated pile?
”Contaminated glass loads are rejected by glass processors and are very expensive to clean,” Sustain Charlotte says. “Glass is very abrasive and damages the concrete floors at” material recovery facilities.
By contrast, when glass is separated ahead of time, the glass processors will encounter “little or no contamination.”
Right now, only 75% of glass can be processed and recycled in Mecklenburg, due to contamination, Smithberger said. That number can reach 100%, if glass is collected separately.
“Glass is a very difficult item to collect and separate back out because it breaks,” Smithberger said. “When we collect it separately...it makes it a more sustainable process.”
Does Charlotte have a new recycling policy?
The city adjusted its yard waste policy earlier this month, requiring residents to use compostable paper bags or personal reusable containers (with a maximum weight of 75 pounds). That’s instead of plastic bags, which are tied to environmental problems like waste in the ocean and the emission of toxic, poisonous gases into the atmosphere.
“It is going very well,” city spokeswoman Beverlee Sanders told the Observer Tuesday. “We are seeing a lot of compliance out in the field.”
Yard waste is collected weekly. Leaves, grass clippings, small limbs and brush are allowed. Charlotte residents can also dispose of yard waste — in paper bags or reusable containers — at Mecklenburg’s recycling centers.
There’s no fine for violating the paper bag mandate for now, Sanders said, as Solid Waste Services focuses on educating residents about the new requirement.
How can I check which items to recycle?
Consult with Charlotte’s “Waste Wizard” tool online at charlottenc.gov/SWS/Pages/WasteWizard.aspx.
Type in an item — for example, “glass bottle” — and the search tool will provide best recycling options. It will also outline special instructions, such as rinsing out glass bottles and jars.
Sanders said the most common mistake is residents recycling plastics like fruit containers, cutlery and straws. Only plastic bottles with necks should be recycled, she said.
Mecklenburg spent nearly $2 million last year handling improperly recycled items, including baby diapers and strollers, Smithberger said. One in five items residents try to recycle don’t belong in their curbside recycling bins.
“It’s a huge problem for us,” Smithberger said. “Glass is but one piece of the puzzle we try to work on.”