9 Investigates

‘Everybody needs to know’: Where does your recycling really go?

From the Signature Waste Command Center in Mecklenburg County, the owner Joe Swinford monitors his trucks to make sure his drivers are on track. But, his trucks are making fewer stops in South Carolina lately after his company lost more than 2,000 customers there.

“The reasons the customers told us they were switching was because the other company was recycling everything,” Swinford said.

In recent years, many recycling facilities in the Carolinas stopped accepting some plastics and even glass.

Signature Waste said it couldn’t recycle those items from customers and keep rates low. That’s when other companies swooped in, offering recycling for less.

But, Swinford thought some weren’t recycling at all. He went so far as to hire a private investigator.

He showed Channel 9 photos that he claims show some companies tossing recycling in with the trash.

“I think everybody needs to know really what’s going on,” Swinford said.

Eyewitness News anchor John Paul started following garbage trucks in York and Lancaster Counties to see if it was indeed happening. In one Fort Mill neighborhood, he witnessed workers for Value Sanitation tossing the recycling in with the trash.

He asked what they were doing throwing recycling into the trash.

“I don’t know why they fill them up,” one worker said.

He explained that the neighborhood HOA doesn’t have a contract that included recycling so they take what’s in the recycle bins and throw them in the trash. When asked why the homes have recycle bins, the worker told Channel 9 he didn’t know.

Some Residents had no idea their recyclables were ending up in landfills.

“Oh really, they throw it in the trash?” one resident said.




She said she would start taking her recycling to a center herself.

A manager from Value Sanitation said the company does pick up recycling if it’s in the contract.

There are two main places to take recycling in Mecklenburg and York Counties. Channel 9 went through weeks of records from the York County Landfill.

The records we obtained show Value Sanitation didn’t recycle anything there for the last two weeks. Records also show the company didn’t take anything to Mecklenburg County to be recycled either.

Over the phone, a manager for Value Sanitation said many times, the recycling is contaminated with items like plastic bags and glass, which facilities won’t accept. In those cases, everything on the truck goes to the landfill.

They told us they take paper material to a private company in Charlotte. The Value Sanitation manager said it’s really on the customer to recycle right.

Channel 9 looked at other commercial haulers that serve South Carolina. Only five have a contract to recycle in York County:

1. Big C Disposal

2. Carters Landscape & Design

3. D&D Sanitation

4. Select Sanitation

5. Signature Waste

And just two companies took recycling from South Carolina to Mecklenburg County in the last two months:

1. Select Sanitation

2. Active Waste Solutions

We took our findings to Jeffery Smithberger, who runs solid waste for Mecklenburg County.

“That’s really depressing,” Smithberger said.

Depressing, he said, but not too surprising.

He’s heard of companies in other parts of the country charging customers for recycling but taking it straight to the landfill.

“It’s not good for our industry to do sham recycling," Smithberger said.

Smithberger said Mecklenburg County recycles everything it can and has checks and balances to make sure garbage companies are following the rules.

He said if you have doubts, ask your company.

“You need to make sure that the company that is getting rid of your recyclables is doing so responsibly and sustainably and it’s okay to ask those questions,” Smithberger said.

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