Downtown Raleigh’s 10-Year Recycling Anniversary

Sustainable Raleigh Spotlight Feature

News posted Sep. 13, 2016 - 6:00 am
Downtown Recycling

Blue recycling carts are a normal sight in downtown Raleigh. But they haven’t always been there; before 2006, only one spot in Moore Square accepted recycling items. Today it’s the normal routine to roll recycling to the curb, and the City is celebrating the program’s 10th anniversary.

Before 2006, downtown businesses and residents with City collection put their trash on the curb using any container. Some didn’t even use containers. The exposed trash bags attracted rodents and leaked into the street. Glass bottles, cardboard, plastic and other recyclables were all thrown away.

“We were picking up all this garbage downtown and we weren’t even recycling the cardboard,” said Bianca Howard, the City’s Environmental Coordinator for Solid Waste Services.

So when the City rolled out standardized trash carts, Howard wrote a grant to fund recycling carts too. At the time, there were no state laws requiring businesses to recycle other than a landfill ban on aluminum cans. It was Howard’s job to get downtown businesses and residents on board.

“We called people, we sent letters,” said Howard. “We didn’t beg them to take containers but we got pretty close.”

Howard visited downtown businesses to promote the program and strategize places to store recycling. “It was fun, downtown was small enough then that you knew everyone,” she said. Bars and restaurants like the Pour House and Crema were some of the first supporters.

The program started small, with only 25 or so customers and three pick-up times a week. The City’s website listed the participants, thanking them for their efforts. “We did a lot to recognize the people who took part,” said Howard. “Now it’s an expectation.”

Today, the downtown crews pick up recycling every day, and most places participate. For Howard, the next challenge is educating customers on what’s recyclable and what’s not.

The City sells recyclable materials to Sonoco Recycling, a national business that sorts, packages and resells recycling. It’s the City’s responsibility to come back later to pick up any “residuals,” or non-recyclables mixed in with the recycling. As cities transition to using larger recycling containers, the amount of residuals has increased, and the closed container makes it hard to spot them.

“Our downtown crews have been really proactive about talking to customers about what to recycle,” said Howard. “But it’s impossible to catch everything.”

Ten years after the program began, Raleigh’s downtown is not the sleepy place it used to be. Thanks to the BigBelly Solar waste stations, pedestrians and visitors can also easily recycle in nearly 50 locations downtown.

“It’s changed a lot in ten years,” said Howard. “It’s a lot easier to recycle now than it used to be.”

The City’s residential curbside recycling program began as a pilot program in 1989. Not sure what to recycle and what to toss, at home or on the go? The City’s website has a list of recycling guidelines.

This Sustainable Raleigh Spotlight is one in a series of City of Raleigh sustainability stories.

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