Recycling Disruptions

Recycling markets are changing but North Carolinians should keep recycling - Read the Press Release


Before 2018, China was the convenient outlet for low-value classes of recyclables that domestic markets did not accept. Beginning last January, China implemented a series of waste import restrictions limiting the types of recyclables that the country would import. Chinese markets would no longer accept foreign bales of unprocessed plastics and mixed paper, and any processed paper and plastic bales must not exceed 0.5 percent contamination. As the largest consumer of the world’s scrap material, China’s import bans have caused global impacts to recycling markets. 

Foreign policy changes have identified some systematic problems in the industry that are now being addressed: high contamination rates and an unsustainable reliance on foreign markets.

The recycling industry is adjusting to the changing marketplace, and the North Carolina Recycling and Materials Management Section (RMMS) is addressing these problems by:

Fighting Contamination

Material recovery facilities (MRFs) sort out different categories of recyclables to market as commodities. However, MRFs are not designed to separate trash from recycling. When residents put non-recyclable items in their recycling cart, it causes contamination of the recycling mix. Contamination has been a growing problem for years leading to increased costs and slowed operations for MRFs. 

The RMMS has developed a back-to-basics education approach to help communities and haulers inform their customers to recycle only those items that MRFs can manage: cans, bottles, cardboard and paper. Single-stream recycling programs paired with direct, consistent and sustained education recover the most recyclable material and avoid contamination.  

The statewide Accepted Recyclable Materials list is available for communities, haulers and material recovery facilities to use at no cost. Supplementary resources are available and can be tailored to individual community needs, including:

Contact Mel Gilles, recycling outreach specialist, at (919) 707-8127 for assistance with customizing outreach materials and view all outreach materials at:

Assisting Communities and Businesses

One-on-One Assistance

The RMMS staff work one-on-one with communities and businesses to find solutions to changing market conditions. Many local governments are facing rising costs to operate recycling programs due to the high cost of removing contaminants coupled with the decreased revenue earned from clean recyclables. Staff can provide individualized technical assistance about:

  • Market connections; 
  • Contract evaluation; 
  • Operational assistance; 
  • Program analysis; 
  • Cost-savings measures; 
  • Outreach and messaging assistance; and 
  • Comparison data or best management practices from around the state.

Staff are also available to present, facilitate or participate in smaller focus meetings involving staff, government leaders or decision-makers. Contact Sandy Skolochenko at (919) 707-8147 or Emily Burnett at (919) 707-8121 for assistance.

Grant Funding

To support efforts to reduce contamination in the recycling stream, RMMS staff prioritized education and outreach projects in the 2019 local government grant cycle. Seventeen of the 32 awarded grants will focus on educating residents to recycle right and reduce contamination in the following communities:

  • Archdale - $6,000 grant to purchase brochures and other educational outreach to reduce recycling contamination
  • Asheville - $30,000 grant to conduct a Recycle Right campaign using brochures, mailers, cart hangers and advertisements
  • Cabarrus County - $8,600 grant to develop and publish newspaper and billboard advertising promoting recycling and reducing contamination of the recycling stream
  • Charlotte - $15,833 grant to conduct a pilot project to distribute recycling information and tag recycling carts to promote the Recycle Right campaign
  • Cherokee County - $4,167 grant to purchase signs for roll offs at its collection centers to reduce and mitigate contamination of recyclables
  • Gaston County - $24,000 grant to partner with municipalities and purchase brochures, mailers and cart hangers to reduce recycling contamination
  • Greensboro - $26,000 grant to conduct a Reboot. Recycle. campaign using billboard and print advertisements to reduce recycling contamination
  • Greenville - $29,955 grant to purchase outreach materials including mailers, stickers, brochures and cart hangers to reduce recycling contamination
  • Haywood County - $20,000 grant to partner with towns to purchase recycling carts to reduce contamination and reduce reliance on bagged recyclables
  • Indian Trail - $13,500 grant to conduct a direct education campaign to reduce recycling contamination using postcards, flyers and newsletters
  • Madison County - $16,000 grant to purchase signage for recycling education and two trailers for cardboard collection and transportation
  • Onslow County - $30,000 grant to distribute magnets and postcards to residents to every household to reduce recycling contamination
  • Person County - $5,960 grant to develop an anti-contamination campaign with print promotions, newspaper ads and signage
  • Rutherford County - $12,957 grant to purchase a recycling receiver container and outreach materials
  • Union County - $16,280 grant to print and mail recycling information to every household to reduce contamination and improve material quality
  • Wake Forest - $8,650 grant to purchase outreach materials including brochures, post cards, stickers and cart hangers to reduce recycling contamination
  • Windsor - $20,000 grant to buy recycling carts, education materials and a cart tipper to begin curbside single stream recycling
Meetings, Press and Events

The RMMS staff have been actively engaging with regional groups, sharing information, and facilitating conferences and events. Activities in 2018 and 2019 include:

Developing Recycling Markets

Each year, the Recycling Business Assistance Center (RBAC) – a team within RMMS – offers grants of up to $40,000 to an individual business to pursue projects to expand processing and/or manufacturing capacity for recycled materials in North Carolina. The RBAC business development grants create new jobs and encourage private investment within the state.

In light of China’s change in recycling import policies, the RBAC targeted the 2018 and 2019 grant cycles to prioritize projects that addressed materials affected by China’s import ban (mixed paper, #3-7 plastics, bulky rigid plastics and agricultural plastics). Additionally, projects involving expansions or improvements to material recovery facilities that have been hit hard by depressed market pricing and high contamination rates were prioritized. As a result, 24 grants awarded in 2018 and 2019 will help produce cleaner, high quality recyclables and expand markets to use more of them in North Carolina. 

Priority grant projects awarded in 2018 include: 

  • AEIPLUS (Agricultural film) - $30,000 grant for a sand remover for agricultural film
  • Bromley Plastics (Post-industrial and post-consumer plastics) - $40,000 grant for a plastic chopper/shredder to increase processing capacity
  • Brunson Recycling (Medical plastics) - $20,000 grant for a guillotine roll shear for HDPE and PVC
  • Commercial Plastics Recycling (Post-industrial plastics) - $20,000 grant for a PVC pipe grinder
  • Curbside Management (MRF upgrades) - $40,000 grant for a glass clean-up system to improve material quality and efficiency
  • Envirovision Technologies (Post-industrial and post-consumer plastics) - $40,000 grant for a plastics wash line
  • Foothills Sanitation (MRF updgrades) - $30,000 grant for an optical sorting system to improve material quality and efficiency
  • HighCube (Polystyrene) - $21,067 grant for two shredders for expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam)
  • Holmes Iron and Metal (Post-industrial plastics) - $20,000 grant for a plastics wash line and granulator
  • Pelican Packaging (Post-industrial plastics) - $40,000 grant for a baler to increase processing capacity
  • Plastic Materials (Post-industrial plastics) - $17,120 grant for two forklifts to increase production capacity and throughput
  • Roll-Tech (Post-industrial plastics) - $18,780 grant for equipment to manufacture recycled plastic wheel hubs
  • Sonoco Onslow (MRF upgrades) - $40,000 grant for a glass clean-up system to decrease contamination and increase the value of recyclable material.
  • Verity (Agricultural plastics) - $30,000 grant for a box truck to collect agricultural plastics

Priority grant projects awarded in 2019 include:

  • American Recycling (MRF upgrades) - $40,000 grant for a new plastics sorting line to increase material value
  • Bromley Plastics (Post-industrial and post-consumer plastics) - $40,000 grant for a blender and chiller to increase domestic plastic processing
  • Brunson Recycling (Medical plastics) - $40,000 grant for a conveyor system, vibration separator and magnets to streamline PVC recycling
  • DC Foam (Carpet recycling) - $10,000 grant for material identification equipment to aid them in carpet recycling
  • Global Circle Recycling (Post-industrial plastics) - $10,000 grant for a trailer to expand post-industrial and commercial plastic and paper recycling
  • Pelican Packaging (Post-industrial plastics) - $40,000 grant for a shredder to process heavy industrial plastic scrap
  • Plastic Materials (Post-industrial plastics) - $40,000 grant for a shredder to grind rigid plastic
  • Roll-Tech (Post-industrial plastics) - $20,000 grant for molding tooling sets to manufacture more recycled rubber and plastic products
  • Sonoco New Hanover (MRF upgrades) - $40,000 grant to create a larger sort line metering bin to better manage incoming volume and increase capacity
  • Wellmark Plastics (Post-industrial plastics) - $40,000 grant for a filtration system to remove contaminants from recycled plastic