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Recycling Challenges In Wake County and Beyond
By Jeri Gray
Posted: 2024-01-10T14:38:00Z

45,000 square foot recycling facility

Wake County’s Solid Waste Outreach supervisor, and a few League members from the environment committee created this video to shed some light on the plastics recycling problem.


A 2020 analysis of EPA data by the US General Accountability Office says that 75.5 percent of plastic waste in the U.S. ends up in landfills and only 8.7 percent is recycled.

Why are our recycling rates so dismal?

Short answer: Because our recycling system is fractured and consumers are totally confused when it comes to plastics.

A survey by the World Economic Forum found that 94 percent of Americans support recycling and 74 percent say it should be a priority but only about 35 percent actually recycle, largely because they are so confused: they’ve just given up.

Why is plastics recycling so confusing?

Short answer: Because different kinds of plastics are constantly coming on the market and the sorting facilities (called MRFS) cannot afford to constantly buy new, specialized recycling equipment needed to handle all these plastics. The fact is that most MRFS barely make a profit and some operate at a loss. Some are able to get grants to purchase new equipment but many can’t. That means that different MRFS can accept and process some plastics that others can’t. That’s what a fractured system is. That’s the recycling system we’ve got.

Some great news on this front, though, is that Raleigh's Sonoco Recycling Facility's new machinery for processing #5 polypropylene plastic items, which not all communities can accept for recycling, has been added to their lineup and is now in operation. #5 Polypropylene, known as PP, is the second-most produced plastic in the world. It is commonly used in tubs, textiles like clothing and carpet, straws and automotive parts.

Sonoco opened its $5 million 45,000 square foot recycling facility in 2006 replacing two older, less sophisticated facilities servicing the Raleigh and Wake County area. 2,000 tons of recycling gets filtered through the Sonoco Recycling Facility in Raleigh each week, which is then bundled up and shipped out to be used again.

To see inside the inner workings of the Sonoco recycling center, view this quick tour of the facilities from Wake County Governmnet's YouTube.

If you are interested in more in-depth information about our recycling challenges, please read the U.S GAO’s 2020 report

If you’d like a detailed description of the recycling process, read the Recycling Partnership’s Recycling: How It Works

For more information on how to recycle in Wake County, specifically, visit the link below. You can also call (919) 850-7300 for any questions or concerns about recycling in Wake County

For detailed information about how Wake County government is focusing on a sustainable future, visit their Office of Sustainability webpage