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Market is down, but Macon County recycling continues

Richard Greene helps sort cardboard at the Cartoogechaye recycling center in Macon County. Bob Scott photo Richard Greene helps sort cardboard at the Cartoogechaye recycling center in Macon County. Bob Scott photo

While the global market for recyclable materials can fluctuate month to month, Macon County residents are encouraged to continue utilizing the county’s recycling program.

Recycling Director Shaun Cribbs said the county doesn’t make much money off recycled items in a downward market, but the department is still able to move the items out of the county without adding more to the county’s landfill. 

“We are making some money off some items but not nearly as good as it used to be,” he said. “With the current market it’s not as good as it used to be as far as exporting overseas — they’re not taking as much product as they used to so it’s flooded the domestic market and drove prices way down.”

Back when Cribbs started working with the recycling center last November, the county was getting about $100 a ton for cardboard but now it’s down to $40 a ton. Glass and mixed paper was bringing in about $5 to $10 a ton but right now it’s basically at zero because there’s no market for it right now — some places are even having to pay to get rid of those items as opposed to making a little money. 

“Metals are still holding strong and No. 1 and 2 plastics we’re getting about 5 to 10 cents a pound but scrap plastic is about a penny a pound,” Cribbs said. “It’s definitely not enough to cover the expenses of bailing, shipping out and paying our employees but it keeps it out of the landfill, which saves taxpayers in the long run.”

Macon County has had a recycling program in place as long as it’s had the landfill — well over 20 years — but unlike some other towns and counties Macon County hasn’t transitioned to  single stream recycling where all recyclables can be mixed together and sorted later at the processing center. There is no curbside residential pick up for recycling either — residents have to sort their own recycling before taking it to one of the county’s convenience centers to be placed in separate bins. 

“Macon County is just too rural and spread out for a single stream system or pick up,” he said. “But our residents do a good job and try to recycle. Tourism generates a lot of recyclable goods in the warmer months as well. If they have any questions they can give us a call and all our centers have attendants who are there to help.”

The convenience centers accept cardboard, plastics, clear and colored glass, aluminum, steel, mixed paper, batteries, electronics, carpet and shingles. Once those recycles are brought to the processing center at the landfill, they’re sorted, weighed and sold off to several different sources. 

“We bale the cardboard and sort mix paper and plastics, aluminum, etc. — for all the material we have a shipping company we use to come get it. Some might go overseas, cardboard goes to Jackson Paper, mixed paper is shipped out to different mills, No. 1 and 2 plastics goes to American Recycling in Enka/Candler; glass is sent to Atlanta usually and we have a deal worked out with a local scrapyard to pick up scrap metal,” Cribbs said.

While Haywood County has been holding on to some of its recyclables waiting for the market to improve some, Cribbs said Macon doesn’t make a habit of letting items sit around for long even if the county isn’t going to get as much money out of it. 

“Macon County has an ordinance that says no cardboard is to go in the landfill — that means all businesses have to recycle cardboard so we’re baling cardboard every day,” he said. “We can’t sit on it — we’ve got to move it.”

Just like other counties, Macon does experience some challenges when soiled recyclable items make it to the processing center. Greasy pizza boxes or jars that aren’t cleaned out well can contaminate the whole batch or attract flies, bees and other pests while sitting in the yard waiting to be hauled off site. 

“It can be a huge problem if household trash gets thrown in the cardboard bin — we can’t bale soiled cardboard,” Cribbs said. “It takes more time and more money for our guys to go through and try to separate it out than it’s worth and it will end up in the landfill. If there’s flies in the trailer when the shipping company comes to pick it up, they’ll reject the whole trailer.”

Even though the market is down right now, Cribbs said it’s expected to rebound in the coming months and encourages residents and visitors to Macon County to continue to recycle. 

“We’ve had folks say, ‘why are we recycling because it all goes in the landfill’ and that’s definitely not true. We do our best to promote reducing, reusing and recycling,” he said. “By the end of July and early August the market is supposed to come back. Recycling efforts are not being overlooked — everything is being processed and hopefully turned into something else.”

For more information about recyclable items accepted in Macon County or convenience center locations, visit www.maconnc.org/solid-waste-recycling.html.

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