To the untrained eye, the recycling bin on Abbott Lane was something to be admired.
It was so full that the lid wouldn’t shut, exposing a plastic grocery bag full of soda cans and water bottles.
But that’s a problem for those in the business of recycling.
“This is what we can’t take,” said Cameron Harris, a Cary public works employee, of the plastic grocery bag. “But we see lots of these.”
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Many Cary residents apparently are unaware of which materials are acceptable to recycle, and which ones aren’t.
Waste Management recently informed Cary Town Hall that residents are filling their recycling bins with more non-recyclable materials than ever before. On July 14, Cary’s public works department launched a 12-week campaign to correct the issue.
“We were told by our processing company that our contamination was pushing 10 percent,” said Scott Hecht, director of Cary’s Public Works Department.
That’s the highest ever for the town, though the 10-percent is about the Wake County average, Hecht said. He said he didn’t know why Cary’s percentage had increased.
“It was eye-opening for us,” he said.
The town doesn’t normally require its recycling crews to sort materials at the curb because it slows down the collection process and is expensive, Hecht said. But, as part of the campaign, workers such as Harris are looking through every Cary resident’s recycling bin for non-recyclable materials, including Styrofoam, pizza boxes and plastic grocery bags.
Crews leave notes in the recycling bins of residents who recycle prohibited materials. Workers like Harris check off boxes on the notes to indicate which materials are unacceptable.
“Including any unaccepted items in your cart could mean that the entire truck’s worth of materials has to be dumped into the landfill instead of recycled, something we know no one wants to see happen,” the notes read.
Cary prides itself on recycling at a high rate.
In 2014, the town announced that recyclable materials made up 27 percent of all waste in the previous fiscal year, a town record. In lobbying for expanded recycling services, Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson once said her recycling bin is usually more full than her trash bin.
“Oh, they fill it, they fill it all the way up,” Harris said of Cary residents. “They just might not have the right stuff.”
On a recent morning, Harris and co-worker Frederick Hackney pulled prohibited materials out of nearly every home they visited in a small neighborhood off Maynard Road.
Hackney dumped the bins into the back of a Dumpster, looked through the pile of materials and removed any non-recyclable items. He found doughnut boxes, pizza boxes, plastic grocery bags, trash bags, packing peanuts, bubble wrap and a broken vase.
Trash bags and plastic grocery bags are the biggest problem, Hecht said.
He speculated that some residents are putting their recyclable materials in trash bags because more home builders are including indoor cabinets for small trash and recycling bins. Homeowners are lining their indoor recycling bins with trash and grocery bags because that’s what they do with trash bins, he said.
Trash bags can’t be recycled, but Hecht encouraged residents to take their plastic grocery bags back to a grocery store. Most have recycling programs, he said.
For a complete list of recyclable and non-recyclable items, go to townofcary.org or call the Cary Public Works Department at 919-469-4090.
Plastics: bottles, lids, laundry baskets, lawn furniture, 5-gallon buckets, storage containers and lids, soda crates, garbage cans and 18-gallon recycling bins.
Paper products: white paper, color paper, newspaper, newspaper inserts, magazines, catalogs, mail, non-foil gift wrap, telephone books and greeting cards that don’t have electrical devices.
Also acceptable: aluminum cans, tin cans, pie pans, foil, pots, pans, lids, paper towel rolls, cereal boxes, paperboard egg cartons, flattened boxes, bottles, jars soup boxes and milk jugs.
The following isn’t allowed: books, plastic bags, toys, frozen food trays, plastic bags, pizza boxes, plastic film, coat hangers, flower pots, pots and pans that have electric plugs, cereal bags, styrofoam, bubble wrap, ceramic, broken glass, light bulbs or drinking straws.