Recycling in the Upstate

With Christmas coming up and all of the boxes, wrapping paper, and packaging that comes with the holiday gift-giving, it’s a good time to talk about recycling.

If you live in a city, you may have curbside pick-up of recycling, whereas county residents have numerous drop-off locations called “convenience centers,” but there is still a fair amount of confusion and misinformation about what can be recycled.

Chris Gurga, Solid Waste Manager for Laurens County, says one of the biggest things people need to be aware of is that unlike trash that goes into a landfill, every piece of waste that goes into recycling is handled by a solid waste employee. Anything that has food in it gets thrown in the trash, so residents should empty and rinse cans and jars before tossing them into recycling.

But, he says, while you may have been told in the past not to put any cardboard that had food on it (like pizza boxes) in recycling, that’s not true now. The technology has improved, and it grinds the paper into pulp, so a bit of grease doesn’t matter. Again, though, if you put a box with a half-eaten pizza in it, it will be thrown out.

When disposing of your Christmas debris, any wrapping paper that is not foil paper can be recycled, and Gurga encourages people to remove Styrofoam and other packaging from boxes and to break them down before taking them for recycling.

Plastics are probably the biggest area of confusion, says Anderson County Environmental Educator Samantha Porter, so to make things simpler, she says, “We tell people that anything with a screw top can be recycled and don’t worry about the recycling number.”

Why Recycle?

The state of South Carolina’s goal is to have 40% of all waste be recycled by 2020. In 2013, according to the Solid Waste Management annual report, the state overall recycled just over 31% of its waste, which was up from 29% the previous year, so at that rate, it’s an achievable goal. And, points out Porter, “Two out of every three items that are thrown in the garbage can be recycled.”

Recycling is an environmental issue, yes—but it’s also an issue of economics, at both the state level and the individual level. Landfills are expensive to build and maintain; since the 1990s, they have been required to be lined to protect the watershed, says Spartanburg County Recycling Coordinator Jes Sdao Swanson, which adds to the cost.

At the individual level, Porter says, the solid waste fees that people aren’t crazy about pay for landfill maintenance, or, in counties without a landfill, they pay for the fees to haul the trash from the local transfer station to another county’s landfill.

Public Awareness

Educating the public is crucial if the state is going to meet its goal, and both Porter and Sdao Swanson regularly conduct events in schools, churches, businesses, and anywhere that they can meet with the public to talk about recycling, and special events help to keep items out of the landfill.

Anderson County hosts a shred event where residents can bring sensitive documents to be shredded, and the paper is then recycled. (If you have a shredder at home, Porter says, just put the shredded paper into a garbage bag and dump the contents out of the bag into the paper recycling bin at the recycling center). Spartanburg County has an annual RXcycle event to properly dispose of pharmaceuticals, as well as a hazardous waste event where residents can bring household items such as paint, antifreeze, aerosols, and other hazardous items to be disposed of properly.

Porter also wants to make people aware that even if the county facilities don’t recycle certain items, there are options—like grocery stores that recycle plastic bags or egg cartons, for example.

If you have questions about recycling, contact your local officials. “I would love to hear from the public on any ideas they have about recycling,” says Gurga, and Sdao Swanson echoes that: “Anyone who has any questions at all can call me.”

Click on the links below for information in your county.











Photo Credits: Banner—; Top right—Laurens County; Top left, bottom right—Spartanburg County

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at