Recycling sign Charleston County

A sign at Charleston County's recycling center on Romney Street shows the importance of keeping as many items as possible out of the landfill. Warren L. Wise/Staff

The Thanksgiving turkey carcass can't be placed in the recycling bin. Neither can those popular metal food trays used at large family functions.

Nevertheless, they show up frequently mixed in with curbside recyclables.

So, not just after a holiday or family function, but every day, someone may wonder what can be tossed in the trash and what can be recycled to keep it out of the landfill.

What about the cardboard paper towel and toilet paper tubes or a toothpaste tube or the thick plastic packaging encasing small objects such as batteries or hair trimmers?

Christina Moskos

Christina Moskos, Charleston County program manager for environmental management

With the holidays approaching and lots of packaging materials arriving through online purchases or shipped gift items as well as all the stuff people normally buy every day, The Post and Courier sat down with Charleston County recycling center director Christina Moskos at the recycling center on Romney Street to go over discarded household items for a little more clarity.

"Almost everything is recyclable in one way or another, but not everything is accepted in Charleston County," Moskos said.

blueberries

The plastic carton containing blueberries and other fruit can be recycled. Provided/Dreamstime

People are recycling more, but the county wants to make sure they are recycling the correct items, and it urges people to think about reducing the amount of recyclables they generate by buying in bulk instead of individual packages.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates each person generates about 4.5 pounds of garbage, including what can be recycled, every day.

"That's a lot of waste," Moskos said.

Still, it's down from the peak of about 4.75 pounds generated in 2000.

holiday bag

Holiday gift bags as well as wrapping paper can go in county recycle bins. Provided/Dreamstime

Saved from landfills

Recycling rates since 1960 have grown from 6 percent to more than 34 percent in 2015, according to the EPA. Over the past 60 years, the amount of waste going to landfills has fallen from 94 percent to 53 percent.

Nationally, about 25 percent of all household waste was paper or paperboard products in 2017, the latest year figures are available from the federal environmental agency.

Egg carton and milk bottles

Cardboard egg cartons and milk jugs can be recycled. Styrofoam egg cartons cannot. Provided/Dreamstime

That number has declined from 33 percent in 2005, mainly because the size of newspapers has been trimmed and fewer printed editions are in circulation due to the increased move to online outlets. Office-type papers also have decreased in use because of electronic transmission of reports.

Yard trimmings make up about 13 percent of municipal solid waste, but the volume has been declining since 1990 because of state legislation discouraging disposal in landfills and efforts aimed at encouraging backyard composting or leaving grass trimmings on the yard.

The amount of plastics in the waste stream, though, has grown because of increased purchases of durable goods, containers and more packaged products. That's about 13 percent of total waste generation.

Curbside tutorial

For the purposes of this story, the focus is on household items used every day that can or cannot be recycled.

Here's what we learned:

Any food-free paper product that's fiber-based, except for shredded paper, can be recycled. Apparently, shredded paper is too small and it falls through the county's conveyors at the recycling center, gums up the works and creates a mess.

disposable razor

Disposable razors cannot be recycled. Provided/Dreamstime

That means cereal boxes, toilet and paper towel tubes, cardboard boxes, toothpaste boxes, aluminum foil boxes or most anything packaged in fiber-based paper products can be recycled.

But plastic bags are a no-no. Their flimsiness causes them to get tangled in the rotors of the recycling center, which can shut down operations until they are removed.

Other items that can't be recycled as part of household recyclables include bowling balls, golf clubs, frying pans, wire coat hangers and disposable metal food trays often used during the holidays and for large functions.

cereal bag

Cereal bags, and similar packaging for cookies, crackers and other products, cannot be placed in curbside recycling bins, but paperboard cereal boxes and similar containers can be recycled. Toilet paper tubes and paper towel tubes also can be recycled. Provided/Dreamstime

"Metal is one of our biggest contaminants," Moskos said. "When in doubt, keep it out," she said.

Tin and aluminum cans, such as those for canned fruits and vegetables and soft drinks, are acceptable.

Other metal items, such as those golf clubs, coat hangers and frying pans, should be taken to solid waste convenience centers and placed in the appropriate container. There vendors collect the items for recycling.

Food items and unwashed food containers, such as those popular holiday metal cooking trays, should never be put in with recyclables.

After Thanksgiving, Moskos said she has seen turkey carcasses and all kinds of discarded food items show up mixed in with recyclables.

On the ropes

Clothing, blankets, garden hoses, Christmas lights, cables, belts and rope also should not be mixed in with household recyclables. They, too, can fall loose and get wrapped around the conveyor's rotors.

pizza box

While pizza box tops are recyclable, the greasy bottoms are not. Provided/Dreamstime

That doesn't mean they can't be recycled at drop-off stations around the county, but they are not accepted at the recycling center and should not be put in household recycling bins.

Plastic bags and Styrofoam are not accepted, but they can often be taken back to stores and placed in recycling bins.

Some items, such as the plastic packaging around a shoe insole, are not accepted because there is not enough volume.

"It has to be enough to compress together in bales," Moskos said. "For one-off items, they are nearly impossible for us."

For many other items containing food, the bottles, boxes and plastic containers often used for leftovers must be clean of all food residue.

"We appreciate participation, but we want it the right way," Moskos said.

For items that are mixed in, the county has to separate them and send them to the landfill.

A list of what can be recycled and what can't be recycled can be found on Charleston County's environmental management website. Check with your county for specific items.