Orange County's new recycling center worth the trips

Ted Vaden
Ted Vaden

You might forget, as you drive onto Orange County’s new Waste and Recycling Center, that you’re entering what used to be called a garbage dump. Maybe “Collection Campus” is more in order.

The rebuilt facility on Eubanks Road is clean, spacious and meticulously laid out. There’s hardly a speck of trash in sight. If you squint your eyes, the tree-canopied landfill next door is a piedmont panorama, American flag snapping in the breeze.

“It’s beautiful,” said Chapel Hill resident Hans Tammeling, as he unloaded yard waste from his pickup truck into a spanking clean dumpster on a recent sunny day. “It’s clean and efficient.”

That’s music to the ears of the county’s waste gurus as they unveil the new state-of-the–art recycling center after 13 months of renovation and construction. At five acres, the center is five times as large as its predecessor and has the capacity to recycle every kind of waste from your worn-out sneakers to your kitchen leftovers to your used futon. 

“It’s a one-stop shop,” Orange Solid Waste Director Robert Williams told me on a recent tour. “They can drop off everything they need to get rid of and even pick up a few things in the salvage shed. “ 

Orange County has long been a leader in recycling, collecting 30,000 tons in the most recent year reported. The county ranks fourth in the state in recycling and for the last four years has exceeded its goal of 61 percent waste reduction per person. 

At the new center, the most noticeable changes are apparent. In addition to the greater space, the center features waist-high dumpsters that allow users to toss trash without bending over to lift heavy items. The grounds are paved, eliminating the dust and mudholes that used to require a trip to the carwash after dropping off trash. Where there previously were 20 to 30 large dumpsters that users had to navigate like drivers in a Wal Mart parking lot, there now are five central compactors where people can drive through in single lines and drop household trash and everyday recyclables: bottles, cans, jars, paper and cardboard. 

Because materials are compacted on site, the containers need to be removed only every two weeks, instead of three times a week as before. The county expects to save $93,000 a year from reduced hauling expense. 

On the outer rim of the center are separate bins for tires, hard plastic (like lawn chairs), yard waste, wood, metal, electronics, large appliances, and furniture. 

New to the center are recycling drops for plastic grocery and dry-cleaning bags, clothing and shoes, and household food and cooking oil. 

“If you make a lot of bacon or fried food, we don’t want that to go down the sink and into the sewer system,” said Allison Lohrenz, county recycling manager. "You can save it and drop it off here.” 

The center gives away food pails for people to recycle kitchen scraps, which is sent off to a composting center and then resold for garden compost. Used cooking oil is recycled as biodiesel fuel. The center now also accepts for free used mattresses and box springs, which people previously had to drop off at a separate site for a $10 charge. 

Also new is a drop-off for used clothing, shoes and textiles, which the county previously did not accept. The county worked with local thrift shops to make sure it does not siphon donations, and it will share with them the proceeds from re-selling used clothing to commercial clothing recyclers. 

The hazardous waste center, which used to be across Eubanks Road at the landfill, has been moved to the recycling center to take used paint, pesticides and other household chemicals. 

The most popular spot at the center remains the salvage shed, where people can drop off, and pick up, lightly used household items such as toys, books, and small appliances. The new shed has been enlarged to handle the larger crowds — as many as 800 cars — that throng the center on a Saturday. 

“It’s super-popular,” said Solid Waste Director Williams. “I came in on a couple of days, and it was like a swap shop.” 

The recycling folks want you to know there are rules. You have to be an Orange County resident. Small businesses and contractors aren’t allowed. And dropoffs are limited to one visit per day, and only one on weekends. Attendants conduct “on-site audits” as necessary, meaning they monitor your credentials, contents and frequency of visits. But otherwise, they are ready to welcome you: 

“Come on out,” said Lohrenz. “We’re open for business.” 

The Recycling Center is open six days a week, closed Wednesday. For hours and other information, see Orangecountync.gov/recycling

Ted Vaden is a former newspaper editor who lives in Chapel Hill. Reach him at tedvaden@gmail.com.