Watching Our Wasteline


By Blair Pollock, solid waste planner, and Kyra Levau, education and outreach coordinator, Orange County Solid Waste Management

New Food Waste Collection Sites
Orange County Solid Waste Management partnered with Climate Reality Orange County and the farmers markets of Eno River and Chapel Hill to open two new food waste collection sites: the farmers markets in Chapel Hill and Eno River. Both markets now have food waste collection available at their Saturday markets, 8 a.m. to noon. The Chapel Hill farmers market also accepts compost on Tuesdays, 3 to 6 p.m.

In Orange County, 47 percent of the materials sent to the landfill could be composted. These new programs help divert valuable materials from landfills, thereby reducing methane production, supporting community-based composting and advancing waste-diversion opportunities. Orange County pays for the collection and composting as part of a 21-year effort to divert food waste from landfills.

Here’s what you can drop off:

  • All food scraps (raw or cooked)
    • Fruit & vegetable scraps
    • Pasta, bread, cereal
    • Dairy products and egg shells
    • Meat, bones and fish products
  • Uncoated paper products: napkins, paper towels, soiled paper food packaging (100 percent paper without a waxy liner)
  • Flowers and houseplants
  • Compostable food-service ware: must be certified compostable, such as BPI-Certified Compostable or ASTM D6400 or D6868

Remove produce stickers, rubber bands, twist ties and other non-compostable items. Compost monitors are on-site to answer questions and ensure that no contaminants are entering the carts. If you have questions about the compostability of an item, please email or call 919-968-2788.

Where Does Our Recycling Go?
With recent growing concerns about recycling being a “hoax,” many residents ask where their recycling is sent after they put it in their blue cart. Orange County sends our recycling to an N.C.-based regional 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 items are used here in the southeastern U.S. to create new products. Our recycling process reduces landfill use, creates jobs and saves natural resources. For additional information, visit Southeast Recycling Development Council ( or

Plastics recycling remains complicated. By far, the best thing you can do is to reduce your overall plastic usage. Clean and empty plastic bottles, tubs, jugs and jars or #1 clear PETE clamshells may still be included in your recycling. Black plastic has no market, so items like TV dinner trays will not make it through the recycling process and should not be recycled in your blue cart. When in doubt, keep it out!

Two of the largest, most innovative plastics processors are in Reidsville, N.C. 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. Envision sorts the plastics by color and sells the plastic pellets to companies that make bottles and other packaging for food, beverages, detergents and other consumer goods.

Steel cans are sold to mini mills, like those operated in North Carolina by Nucor. Aluminum cans are sold to smelters as well — often in nearby states like Tennessee. Nucor converts the cans to sheets sold to can makers or ingots sold to other aluminum product manufacturers. Corrugated cardboard goes primarily to supply a huge plant in Hartsville, S.C., that has been operating for over a century and just completed an $80 million upgrade.

What about 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 because of the savings and efficiency gained 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. Over 500 tons have been recycled separately since GOTS began in November 2019. Glass in your recycling cart 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 taken to a processor in Wilson, N.C., that converts old bottles (labels and lids are okay) into material for new bottles, fiberglass insulation, sand blasting media and reflective paint beads, largely made here in North Carolina. The yield from source-separating (i.e., GOTS dumpsters) is close to 100 percent, while the yield from single stream (curbside recycling) is reported to be about 60 percent.

Is parchment paper used in baking compostable?
No, parchment paper is not compostable. Although it’s similar to wax paper, parchment paper is coated with a nonstick material, typically silicone. Some parchment paper may not have silicone coating, but it’s difficult to differentiate. Plain wax paper is compostable.

Are #7 plastic clamshells marked “certified compostable okay to compost?
Compost the clamshell if it says “compostable” and is a certified compostable product labeled with “BPI certified” or another certification. Recycle the clamshell if it’s #1 PETE clear plastic.
NOTE: Use of the word ‘compostable’ is now regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. The resin code numbering system is not the best guide to composting or recycling. Another key term is “PLA” stamped on the container, sometimes accompanied by the resin code #7. PLA stands for polylactic acid, a corn molecule turned inside out to behave like plastic but actually be compostable. The number 7 alone is not sufficient as it also is used for other resins and does not always mean PLA.

Can I recycle my old aluminum license plate after NCDOT replaces it?
You can recycle your old license plate but NOT in your blue cart or single stream dumpsters. Recycle ONLY in the scrap metal dumpster at one of the five staffed Waste & Recycling Centers. Residents in Orange County dispose of over 700 tons of scrap metal annually that could be recycled at Waste & Recycling Centers in scrap metal dumpsters.

What do I do with empty plastic plant pots?
Reuse them as much as possible to repot plants or grow new plants. Some garden shops or sellers at the Farmers Markets may accept them back for reuse if clean. Plastic plant pots #4 or #5 can be recycled separately with other rigid plastics at the Waste & Recycling Centers. Look for the purple roll-off dumpsters labeled for rigid plastics. Make sure the pots are free of dirt and are larger than a pint.

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