Recycle right? It's not quite that easy

Biggest no-nos: Plastic bags and food-waste contamination
April 22, 2019

Recycle Right. That's the message in every statewide campaign to encourage recycling.

The Delaware Solid Waste Authority and Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control work hard to educate the public on the proper way to use the state's single-stream recycling program.

Still, even the most environmentally aware person can make mistakes. So in honor of Earth Day, April 22, Mike Parkowski, DSWA chief of business and governmental services, said the top three issues are:

• Plastic bags, which can be taken back to most grocery stores but not used to bag up recyclables.

• Materials with food waste.

• Shredded paper.

He said plastic bags and shredded paper tangle up the conveyor-belt sorting system at the Materials Recovery Facility in New Castle, where all Sussex County single-stream recyclables are trucked and recycled. He said facility staff has to stop the sorting system and physically remove the jams, causing delays and costing money.

Materials with food waste contaminate other paper products, which end up being thrown away, he said. Even a small amount of food can create problems.

Recycling center at Sussex landfill

The good news is that many other items can be recycled or reused. DSWA transfer stations accept yard waste. You pay based on weight.

The DSWA Southern Solid Waste Management Center off Route 20 between Georgetown and Laurel not only serves as the county landfill, but also a recycling center at the site accepts all drop-off center materials, single-stream items plus electronics and styrofoam. Household hazardous wastes are accepted 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays. Go to to see a list.

Used clothing, toys, furniture and household items are accepted at thrift shops, and many also accept books.

Markets for many recyclables hit bottom

The market for recyclables is at one of its lowest levels in many years. Last year, China, the largest importer of recycled paper and plastics in the world, dramatically decreased what it will accept because of contaminated materials. The Chinese government enacted contamination levels down to .5 percent; worldwide standards range from 1 to 5 percent.

The change has had worldwide implications, Parkowski said. “It's turned the paper markets upside down,” he said. He said the authority was getting $80 to $90 a ton for recycled mixed paper, but now DSWA pays $30 a ton to get rid of paper.

He said some recycled plastics still have value, but many don't have a viable market. In addition, DSWA has to pay to have recycled glass taken away. Aluminum continues to be a recycling success story. “It still has the highest value and is the easiest material to recycle because you can make an aluminum can into another aluminum can, which could be back on shelves in six to eight weeks,” he said.

He said Delaware recently won an award as the second-best state in the country for pounds per person in recycling household batteries.

Learn the basic rules of single-stream recycling



Paper larger than an index card

Corrugated cardboard

Clean paper bags


Telephone books

Newspapers and magazines

Regular and junk mail

Paperback books

Paperboard boxes

Office paper and file folders

Wrapping paper except foil paper


Clean juice boxes and milk cartons

Any color glass bottles and jars – remove lids and recycle separately, labels can be left on

Aluminum, tin and steel cans

Clean aluminum foil


Clean cups such as red Solo cups

Plastic bottles and jugs

PET 1; HDPE 2; LPDE 3; polypropylene 4; mixed 7

Rigid plastic

Clean food and beverage containers

Rinsed-out plastic yogurt and butter containers

Rinsed-out milk, orange juice and juice box containers

Clean plastic trays


Coffee cups

Egg cartons (except cardboard)

Plastic bags

Items with food residue

Waxed paper

Clear plastic wrap

Packing peanuts


Shredded paper*


Scrap metal



Window glass and mirrors

Ceramics and dishes

Frozen microwave food boxes (have a waxed coating and moisture content)

Packaging plastic such as that used in household battery packs

*Shredded paper accepted during special events. Go to

**Styrofoam blocks can be recycled at the Sussex landfill center.

Other recyclables

Appliances –Sussex landfill and Route 5 transfer station

Motor oil and filters – DSWA drop-off centers

Household batteries – DSWA drop-off centers

Lead-acid batteries – Returned to vehicle and boat dealers

Scrap tires – Phone 302-739-9403

CFL bulbs – Household hazardous waste events listed on DSWA website

Electronics – Accepted at Sussex landfill recycling center, including computers and parts, small household appliances, electronic toys, video game systems, telephones and other communications equipment, TVs and radios

The nearest DSWA drop-off centers are: 28963 Mount Joy Road, near Long Neck and 13870 S. Old State Road., Ellendale.

For more information:

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