HomeScienceEnvironmentWhat's the truth about recycling in Asheville?

What’s the truth about recycling in Asheville?

ASHEVILLE – Today’s burning question explores how to recycle your plastic in Asheville and whether some are destined for the trash! Do you have a question for Answer Man or Answer Woman? Email interim executive editor Karen Chávez at and your question could appear in an upcoming column.

Ask: I recently read that it’s expensive to sort the plastic that isn’t actually recycled, so it’s better to put those items in the regular trash and landfill. What’s the truth about that here in Asheville? How much plastic (up to what number in the small triangle) is actually recycled, and would the sanitation department prefer that we put the higher numbers in bins?

Answers: If you search your kitchen for plastic items and turn them over to check the bottom, you’ll likely find a small raised badge – a number inside the triangular recycling symbol, which indicates what kind of plastic the material is made of. Numbers range from 1-7. It’s so commonplace, it’s easy to miss.

And Jes Foster, Sanitation Division Manager, says you can keep missing it at least in Asheville.

“‘Recycling by numbers’ isn’t really how it’s done anymore and it’s not a good guideline for what to recycle,” Foster told the Citizen Times in an email. “For example, a plastic grocery bag and a milk jug might both be number 2, but both are not recyclable in your shopping cart. For plastic, the best guideline for roadside recycling is the form: bottles, tubs, jugs, jars.”

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She moved on to Nancy Lawson, co-owner of Recycling at the edge in Woodfin, for more. The company, known as Curbie, is the recycling collector and processor for Asheville and handles most of the area’s recycling.

Lawson emphasized that everything on their accepted recycling list is recycled. That means there is a home for it. This list can be found on their website.

She said Curbie has “end users” for all plastic bottles, jugs, tubs and jars.

“(Foster) is right to move away from the numbers and classify it based on the shape of the plastic,” Lawson said. There are always exceptions to every rule, she added: “We don’t accept Styrofoam (#6), black microwavable trays, take-out containers, plastic shells, no plastic wrap or bags.”

Lawson said much of the confusion usually starts when someone reads a national article on recycling.

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“What you can and cannot recycle is 100% dependent on whether or not your local business has a nearby factory or manufacturer that processes the sorted and separated material into something else,” Lawson said. In this case, close is within a five to six hour radius.

These manufacturers are what is known as the ‘end user’. They are the ones who determine what is or is not accepted in their recycling program.

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“General articles about what is recycled nationally don’t always match what we’re experiencing here in this area,” she said.

What to do with an item if you are not sure?

Foster encouraged residents to review the guidelines on the city website and elsewhere.

“If an item isn’t on our recycling list, it definitely shouldn’t end up in the curbside recycling cart,” Foster said.

“‘Wishcycling’ (wishful recycling) is costly to our recycling processor in terms of both time and labor to sort inappropriate materials and cost to dispose of the material – and those costs are in turn passed on to the city and our residents through our recycling contract Items not on the recycling list should go in the bin, or readers can search the Waste Wizard for possible alternative recycling points.”

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More information about what is recyclable can be found at curbie. com. Other lists of recyclable material are available on the city’s website at For more specific questions, Foster recommends consulting the Waste Wizard at or on the AVL Collects app.

On the site you can type in which item you want to know more about and it will tell you where and how to throw it away or recycle it.

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For example, plastic shopping bags are usually accepted by Ingles Markets or Walmart.

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Asheville GreenWorks holds regular volunteer-driven, free-to-the-public Hard 2 Recycle events where they accept items that cannot be recycled by the city, such as books, electronics, food-grade Styrofoam, and printer cartridges. More information can be found at

Curbie has customer service representatives who can answer specific questions at 828-252-2532.

Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. News tips? Email or message on Twitter @slhonosky.



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