The Trash Series: Recycling Do’s and Don’ts


Cary, NC — Plastic bags and pizza boxes are some of the most common contaminates to a bin full of otherwise good recyclables. Recycling can be confusing, so here’s a guide to what you can–and what you can’t–put in those brown bins each week.

The Trash Series

This article is the third in a series of articles about trash. Yes, trash.

In Cary, we’re lucky to have resources like curbside trash pick-up, co-mingled recycling and yard waste collection. With the help of Bob Holden, Town of Cary’s Solid Waste Division Manager, I’ve already learned a lot about trash and yard waste. This week, I’ll tackle the topic of recycling by explaining what you can–and what you can’t–recycle.

Recycling in Cary

The Town of Cary collects recycling every other week on the same day that your trash is picked up. Co-mingled recycling, or being able to throw paper, cardboard, glass and plastic in one bin makes it easy. In a press release, Scott Hecht, Cary’s Public Works Director, said:

When we collect a contaminated cart, we risk having the entire truckload of recyclables sent to the landfill, which is something we know nobody wants to happen.

I visited this landfill last month and, while I was impressed by the strict guidelines put in place there to protect the environment, it’s important to me to keep what I can out of the ground.

Recycling Do’s

The following items can be recycled in your brown bins:

  • Some paper – newspaper, glossy magazines, junk mail, envelopes, telephone books
  • Corrugated cardboard with a wavy middle
  • Paper towel rolls and toilet tissue rolls
  • Cereal boxes and paper milk/juice cartons
  • Glass bottles and jars (labels and lids are okay)
  • Plastic bottles # 1-7 (lids and labels are okay)
  • Egg cartons
  • Aluminum/tin/steel cans and foil
  • Metal pots, pans and lids

Find a complete list of “recycling do’s” online.

Recycling Don’ts

Don’t throw these items in your recycling bins:

  • Some paper – books, napkins, tissues, paper towels, wax or parchment paper
  • Pizza boxes
  • Plastic bags
  • Clamshell/hinged plastic containers
  • Unnumbered plastics
  • Coat hangers
  • Broken glass, mirror glass, and ceramic
  • Light bulbs

Find a complete list of “recycling don’ts” online. When in doubt, throw it out!

Other Recycling Guidelines

Following these guidelines make picking up your recycling easy:

  • Place bins in the street by 7 am on your collection day
  • Point the arrows on the lid towards the street (on trash bins, too)
  • Try to place bins away from parked cars, mailboxes and fire hydrants
  • Don’t cram items in the bins and break down cardboard boxes

Got Bulky Items or Extra Recyclables?

You can take bulky recyclables (like plastic laundry baskets, lawn furniture or storage bins) or extras that won’t fit in your bins to the Citizen’s Convenience Center in Downtown Cary at 313 N. Dixon Avenue. You can find more information about how to dispose of cooking oil, motor oil, paint, electronics and more on the Town of Cary website.

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Story and photo by Jessica Patrick.

19 replies
  1. Leonora
    Leonora says:

    What about aseptic packaging e.g., coconut water? I have seen conflicting information about these.

  2. Len Nieman
    Len Nieman says:

    I can’t find anything on the Cary or Wake County site on what to do with left over copper wire scraps. With, or without, insulation on it.

    Is copper wire recyclable, or is it trash??

  3. Marie
    Marie says:

    I gather my recyclables in paper grocery bags. Usually we empty them out, but when the bag is too gross, we toss the whole thing in the recycling. Is that OK? Can paper grocery bags even go in the recycling bin?

    • Lindsey Chester
      Lindsey Chester says:

      Pizza boxes actually gum up the works because of the GREASE that is often retained by the cardboard from the melted cheese and meat. It makes the paper pulp untenable. So routinely the town’s staff pulls ALL pizza boxes OUT of the recycling paper stream. They don’t check them for grease, they just summarily take them out.
      No Spray cans, ever, those are pressurized

      Maria, paper bags can be recycled, but I doubt loading all your recylcing into bags is a good idea. We keep a small garbage can in our garage to collect small items. When it is full, we dump it periodically into the large Cary brown bin we have

  4. Jyotsna
    Jyotsna says:

    Wow!! Looks like I have been recycling few things which were not acceptable. I have few more confusion:
    1. What about papers colored with crayons ( my daughter says that it is not allowed to recycle)?
    2. Tomato puree/ soup /olive cans and other cans which had been been used for food items, not soda cans??
    3. Paper plates, paper cups and plastic spoons/ forks??
    4. Plastic toys??

  5. Gary
    Gary says:

    Dana, regarding hinged containers, this is what I was told in late May, after writing to TOC about how CONFUSING they are making recycling:

    “The clamshell container (hinged container with a lid) that we are referring to is the plastic type of clamshell. All plastic clamshell containers are not accepted in our Cary Recycles program including berry clamshell containers, salad clamshell containers, etc. It does not matter what number (recycling code) it is labeled with or if you cut and separate the lid. This is mainly due to the make-up of the resin. A bottle #1 is different than a clamshell #1 and will process differently for recycling.”

    Cary’s contractor doesn’t accept all “Numbers” while the contractor for Waste Management, or McDonald’s may, in my opinion.

  6. Dana
    Dana says:

    So what’s so bad about pizza boxes? And why not hinged plastic containers if they have the right number on them?

    • Lindsey Chester
      Lindsey Chester says:

      Pizza boxes actually gum up the works because of the GREASE that is often retained by the cardboard from the melted cheese and meat. It makes the paper pulp untenable. So routinely the town’s staff pulls ALL pizza bozes OUT of the recycling paper stream. They don’t check them for grease, they just summarily take them out.

  7. Catherine
    Catherine says:

    Hi Gary–TOC accepts paperboard egg cartons not styrofoam or plastic egg cartons. You can always take the styrofoam or plastic egg cartons with you to the Cary Farmers Market and a few of the vendors will gladly take them for reuse!

  8. Gary
    Gary says:

    Confused: they accept egg cartons, but not styrofoam. Or, is it non-plastic cartons?

  9. Rich Swain
    Rich Swain says:

    Thanks for article. Can you find out why the TOC picks up yard waste on Friday and not Monday? Most people do a majority of their yard work on the weekends and then it either sits on the curb for 5 days or they have to haul it off. I am sure staffing has somehing to do with it but it would be better for the citizens (IMO) to pick up yard waste on Monday mornings.

    • Gary Brown
      Gary Brown says:

      Based on my experience, yard waste pickup is on different days in all parts of the Town (just like garbage and recyclables).

      For example, mine in Preston is picked up on Wednesday.

      According to Cary website, this is supposed to be helpful to find your collection day and recycling week :

      Click “search” and enter your address. Once your property has been located, click on the “Identify” mapping tool.

      It needs to be de-geeked.

    • Jessica Patrick
      Jessica Patrick says:

      Rich, I asked my friend from Public Works. I will get back to you with the answer.

    • Jessica Patrick
      Jessica Patrick says:

      Rich, here is the answer to your question from my friend Bob Holden at Public Works:

      That’s a great question.

      When we made the transition to curbside collection of garbage in automated trucks in 2006; we went from 15 – four man crews to 10 – one man crews. We did keep 4 – four man crews for the collection of yard waste. However, these four crews could not collect from the entire Town in one day, therefore we made the decision to collect all the materials (garbage, recycling and yard waste) on the same day. One of the great things about the current collection schedule is in years past, yard waste would not be collected on a week with a holiday but now yard waste is collected every week. We are also fortunate to have as an option for our citizens, the Citizen’s Convenience Center; it accepts all the same items we do curbside and is available:

      Monday – Friday 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.
      Saturday/Holidays 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
      Sundays 1 p.m. – 6 p.m.
      Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day

    • Lindsey Chester
      Lindsey Chester says:

      Yard waste is picked up on the same day that you have your regular trash pick up. That means some residents have yard waste pick up on Friday, some Monday, others Tues, Wed or Thurs. Its is the same day because that is the day all three trucks come through your neighborhood. They simply cannot do the entire 64 square miles of Cary all on Monday.

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