Dear NC Communities, businesses, and friends:


The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) today, with nearly 200 local governments across the state, launched the Recycle Right NC campaign.  The 10-week public education campaign is designed to encourage North Carolinians to recycle right by knowing which items are recyclable and which items go in the trash bin.


The goal is to recover more valuable materials like cans, bottles, paper and cardboard while reducing the amount of non-recyclables in the recycling bin to maximize economic and environmental benefits to the state.


Recycling is not simply an environmental endeavor.  The recycling industry employs more than 16,000 North Carolinians in private sector jobs alone. These companies prepare and supply recyclables to manufacturers who rely on receiving clean, high-quality materials to make new products.


As recycling collections have become more convenient, the amount of non-recyclables placed in the bin, known as contamination, has risen.  Contributing factors include well-meaning residents who try to recycle the wrong items and a lack of clear information about what belongs in the bin.  Local sorting facilities designed to separate recyclables now have the added task of removing contaminants which reduces efficiency and increases costs.  Educating residents about which items go into the recycling container is the most effective way to recover the most recyclable material and avoid contamination.


Prior to 2018, China served as an outlet for lower value and poorly sorted recyclables.  In Jan. 2018, China placed restrictions on the type and quality of recyclables allowable for import, effectively stopping all imports of mixed plastics and paper.  As the world’s largest importer of recyclables, China’s policy changes had global impacts to the recycling industry causing recyclers to seek new markets closer to home.  Using in-state markets provides more economic and environmental benefits for North Carolina but requires that recyclable materials are both cleaner and better sorted.


Recycle Right NC offers tailored educational materials to participating local governments and includes a 10-week social media campaign.  The information encourages residents to be “cart smart” by doing the following:

  • Visit your local community’s website to make sure you know what goes in the recycling bin.
  • Recycle only the items on your local recyclables list and make sure items are empty and loose (not bagged).
  • When in doubt, throw it out!

The most problematic contaminants in the recycling bin are plastic bags, cords, hoses and other string-like items that tangle around rotating equipment.  Sorting facilities rely on real people working alongside technology to separate recyclables.  Anything that wraps around equipment requires manual removal, which causes stoppage time and presents safety concerns.  Avoid other things that could be hazardous to workers like batteries, needles, sharp objects and food residue.


Working with our local government partners, we are cleaning up the recycling stream to create a more resilient recycling industry, conserve our state’s natural resources and boost the local economy.  Collective outreach with consistent messaging across the state will help reduce confusion and give residents confidence that North Carolina is and continues to be a leader in recycling. 


Many of you have already signed-up up to participate in the campaign.  And, if not, there’s still time – if you are interested in participating, please let us know by signing -up here.  We thank you!  Together, we can make a difference!


For more information, go to




Wendy G. Worley, Section Chief

Recycling and Materials Management Section

Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service