You May Not Be Recycling Correctly. Here’s How to Recycle Right in the Triangle

In 2019 alone, Wake County's landfill gained 507,000 tons of garbage. As we celebrate 50 years of Earth Day this year, it is more important than ever to recycle right.
Wake County Recycling

In 2019, Wake County’s Solid Waste Management Division (SWMD) landfilled 507,000 tons of garbage.

Also that year, SWMD recycled 37,271 tons of materials collected at drop-off sites. Using landfill gas, they generated enough energy to power as many as 15,000 homes, 24/7.

While recycling efforts have certainly progressed over the years, the Triangle area is still seeing a lot of waste due to incorrect recycling techniques.

With the COVID-19 crisis, the last thing on your mind might be dealing with the recycling in your home. Perhaps you have piles of recyclables sitting in your recycling cart waiting to be picked up or taken to a drop-off center? Or, you’re just not sure if they can be recycled because of the pandemic?

Amid the “great disruptions of 2019/20,” MRFs (Material Recovery Facilities, a.k.a. recycling sorting centers) and many local governments in the Triangle—including Wake County, Orange County, Durham County, the City of Durham, and Chatham County—have continued to help educate citizens to recycle right and provide cleaner loads of recyclables.

As we celebrate 50 years of Earth Day, keep the good habits going.


If you’re going to recycle, it is more important than ever to do it right. You may think you are recycling correctly, but you may be missing one small step that changes the fate of your waste—and instead of being recycled, it goes into the landfill.

Be it circulating misinformation, a lack of resources, or confusing guidelines, North Carolina’s recycling program—and therefore our environment—is suffering for a variety of reasons.

Today, all that changes.

Here are definitive guidelines and links to resources to help you understand how to recycle right in the Triangle so the whole family can get involved with making the world a better place. After all, it’s our kids who are inheriting it.

When you recycle right…

  • You guarantee items get recycled and not thrown in the landfill
  • You fuel North Carolina’s robust recycling economy
  • You support the 16,000 jobs in our state created by recycling
  • You provide vital feedstock for manufacturing
  • You help save energy, natural resources, habitats, and landfill space
  • You help reduce pollution


How to Recycle Right in the Triangle

Recycle Right

Although specifics can differ based on municipality, the above graphic is a fantastic rule-of-thumb to follow when recycling at home.

One of the major issues with recycling is contamination, the improper sorting of recyclable items. So much so that the state launched the #RecycleRightNC campaign in September 2019, an effort to reduce recycling contamination. The campaign was supported by material recovery facilities (a.k.a. recycling sorting centers) and many local governments in the Triangle, including Wake County, Orange County, Durham County, the City of Durham, and Chatham County.

If your cardboard, cans, and plastics are contaminated with food or hazardous waste, they cannot be recycled. Always rinse out food containers before recycling.

Additionally, plastic screw caps need to be screwed back on and metal tops pushed in. Otherwise, they become a costly mistake as they clog up the machines.

Unfortunately, there are many single-use plastics that cannot be recycled in local recycling programs. These include things like bags, cups, lids, straws, trays, spoons, and forks.

Check the below resources for area specifics on recycling right:


Ideas for getting the family involved

It’s better when we learn to recycle right together.

Here are some ways to make saving our environment fun for the whole family:

Managing 19 waste facilities, the Wake County’s Solid Waste Management Division’s facilities include a landfill, a waste transfer station, 11 residential waste and recycling convenience centers, three household hazardous waste drop-off facilities, and three multi-material recycling drop-off facilities. The SWMD also provides an array of outreach and education programs to the community, including three national award-winning programs: the Public Landfill Tour program, the Feed the Bin school recycling program, and the 86it Anti-Litter Campaign.

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