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Recycling: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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Most folks know what to recycle in their curbside bins: clean paper, cardboard, plastic bottles and metal cans. Each one of these items has strong local markets, creating lots of jobs in South Carolina. In fact, the annual economic impact of recycling now exceeds 13 billion dollars in our home state alone.

And of course, we know that recycling paper and containers reduces material in landfills as well as the energy and resulting pollution and carbon footprint of making new materials.

Unfortunately, sometimes what we know is overpowered by what we feel – like a desire to save the planet by recycling as much as possible! This “aspirational recycling” is full of good intention – but it can endanger workers, jam or break machines or contaminate marketable materials.

How can you maximize what you recycle while minimizing this “aspirational recycling” and the damage it can cause? Check your local government websites and recycling programs for information about what can be recycled in your area. In South Carolina, you can visit SC DHEC’s website or

And here’s a roundup of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!

The Good:

  • Clean, dry paper
  • Cardboard
  • Plastic bottles
  • Metal cans
  • Clean food containers like yogurt cups

The Bad:

  • Used diapers
  • Electronics
  • Food and beverages (which attract pests and carry disease)
  • Scrap metal (this can break equipment and isn’t easily recycled in curbside collection streams)
  • Garden hoses
  • Holiday lights
  • Clothing
  • String and rope (this can jam machines!)
  • Plastic bags (these can damage equipment and must be recycled in different programs)
  • Anything small that can be mis-sorted, contaminating the recycled materials

The Ugly:

We see some odd things in our recycling collection! Some of the most outrageous things we’ve found at our Columbia MRF include:

  • Handguns
  • Medical needles
  • Dead animals
  • A funeral urn
  • A sledge hammer
  • A bowling ball

Please don’t send us more of these!

Read more at and avoid falling prey to the Recycling Dirty Dozen!