America Recycles Day: Q&A with a Local Expert


Recycling. Do you do it? More importantly, do you do it correctly? When I decided to write about recycling in honor of America Recycles Day (November 15), I figured we would cover the basic “do’s and don’t’s” and learn a thing or two about the recycling process. We do cover all of that here, in my interview with Charleston County Environmental Management Program Director Christina Moskos.

But most importantly, we discussed how vital it is for all of us in the community to recycle correctly. Keep reading to educate yourself, and implement these practices to help our recycling programs work to their fullest potential.

Please note: The information here applies to Charleston County residents. While much of the information may overlap with recycling programs in other areas, it is always best to check with your local programs for specific information.

America Recycles Day_ Q&A with a Local Expert Charleston Moms
Photo courtesy of the Charleston County Environmental Management Department


Q: What happens once our recyclables leave the can at our curb?
A: Once the recyclables are collected at the curb, they are collected at the Romney Street Recycling Center. This is where they are processed and sorted according to type using a series of conveyor belts, machines, rotors, blowers, magnets, and some hand-sorting as well. Once it is all sorted, the materials are bailed together and sold to re-manufacturers internationally and domestically to be made into new products.

Q: What happens to non-recyclable items that you receive at the recycling center?
A: To be completely transparent, we do send many things to the landfill because we don’t have the means to process them for recycling. However, it is important to note that almost everything you can think of is recyclable in one way or another, but that does not mean it’s recyclable here at the Charleston County recycling center.


Q: What are some common rules to follow for recycling in Charleston County?
A: We generally accept any type of paper products, except shredded paper. As well as plastic bottles and containers, aluminum and steel cans, and glass bottles and jars. Avoid really small things because the sorting process is a complicated series of machines and something really tiny typically falls through the cracks and ends up in the landfill anyway. Straws, bottle caps, and small pieces of paper are best thrown in the trash.

Q: What are some common problems you see when it comes to recycling?
A: Plastic bags and other soft plastics are a big one. They create huge issues with processing because it gets wrapped around the rotors and workers have to crawl into machines to manually cut it out. We see so many other crazy things come through here. A lot of it is what we call “wishful recycling” where someone is thinking, “Okay, well the frying pan is metal. I think it can be recycled, so I’ll throw it in my cart and hope for the best.” But the best thing to do is to follow the rule of thumb, “When in doubt, throw it out.” If you find yourself really questioning whether something can be thrown in your recycling bin or not, just throw it in the garbage.

Q: With the new single-use plastic regulations going into effect, we are starting to see more restaurants and businesses use compostable items, like plasticware and plates. Are these items recyclable?
A: Compostable items are not recyclable. Luckily we have a commercial processing facility in West Ashley. We are trying to encourage restaurants to utilize that facility and direct their organic waste and compostables to that facility. it’s a great way to keep that stuff out of our landfill and recycle it. I would encourage you to mention it to your favorite restaurants and coffee shops!

Q: What do the numbers with the recycling symbol mean on the bottom of containers?
A: The numbers on the bottom do not speak to an item’s recyclability. They just indicate the type of resin that it’s made from. The numbers are there so the re-manufacturers and recycling centers like us know how to categorize the materials. So when they melt it down to make something new, it’s all categorized correctly. Back in the day, I think it was a little bit of green-washing from the plastics industry when they added the recycling symbol. It created confusion. There are a lot of plastics with a number and recycling symbol around it that are not accepted for recycling. For example, styrofoam is a big one. We do not accept styrofoam at all in Charleston County. Or the little air packs in your Amazon packages. They have a recycling symbol, but we in Charleston don’t accept those soft plastics like grocery bags, trash bags, shrink wraps, and air packs. It’s misleading and can be confusing. But for us in Charleston, it’s important to remember we accept all types of plastic bottles and containers only, no matter what the number is.

America Recycles Day_ Q&A with a Local Expert Charleston Moms


Q: What happens with pieces of recycling that are not thoroughly cleaned? Is it okay to recycle items that have remnants in the container (e.g. peanut butter jar)?
A: People always ask about the peanut butter jars. My trick is to fill it with hot water and a squirt of dish detergent. Let it sit on the counter for a while and when you go to rinse it out, it will come out much easier without wasting a lot of water. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent clean but use your best judgment. We don’t want people to use a ton of water to clean their recyclables, but we do ask that if it’s something particularly gross, give it a quick rinse. First of all, this helps keep your own space at home clean and clear of bugs. Secondly, we have people at the recycling center hand-sorting the materials, so if it’s too gross for you to touch, they probably don’t want to touch it either.


Q: Holidays are a prime time for extra household waste. What are some recycling reminders and guidelines for all the extra packaging (boxes, bubble wraps, styrofoam)?
A: Avoid all of the soft plastics and packaging in your cart. Definitely do not put Christmas lights in either. Generally gift wrap and tissue paper are just fine to put in your cart. If your recycling bin is overflowing, we encourage everyone to look at our website and find the nearest drop off location. Our trucks are fully automated, and they can only service the Charleston County recycling carts. A lot of people will try to put out an extra bin of materials, but there is no way for the drivers to service that. If you have extra, save it for your next recycling day or take it to your nearest drop off location.


Q: Are there any final tips we should remember when it comes to recycling?
A: One other important point we are trying to focus on right now is the fact that it’s not only about recycling these days. It’s really more about the old phrase, “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” Remember to first reduce what you are consuming as much as possible. And then reuse whatever you can. As a last option, recycle what is left. Recycling has become so prolific and so convenient, which is great, but we are such a single-use, disposable, consumer-based society. It’s important to be mindful of what we are producing as a single person. Think of ways you can reduce that right off the bat. And maybe think of ways to reuse as well. And then go with recycling as a final measure.

The whole point of the county’s recycling program is attempting to save space in our landfill. Of course, recycling saves natural resources and decreases greenhouse emissions. But my job is ultimately about encouraging people to be more sustainable in their every day lives.

recycling dos and donts

For more information, visit the Charleston County Environmental Management website here.

For Berkeley County residents, check out your recycling options here. Dorchester County residents can check out this website. 

Thank you to Christina Moskos for her time and expertise!