Greenville is educating residents about changes to its recycling program as it restarts multi-family recycling.

The city started picking up recycling from apartment complexes and other multi-family developments on Jan. 6, about eight months after it suspended the service in mid-May.

When the service was suspended, there were concerns about employees coming into direct contact with bins that are touched by multiple people, said Public Works Director Kevin Mulligan. The availability of personal protective gear was limited at the time.

The city has 250 recycling pads located in the city’s apartment complexes and other developments. Many of the pads have multiple blue recycling containers that require a city employee to either empty them into the recycling truck or to position them for pickup by the mechanical arm. Single-family recycling continued because the bins are handled by machinery.

While North Carolina continues to see a record-setting number of new COVID-19 cases, Mulligan said the service can be safely restarted.

“What we are seeing and hearing and being informed of on the transmission path, as we’ve found out more, it’s led us to be more comfortable with restarting multi-family recycling,” Mulligan said.

Plexiglass has been installed in recycling vehicles in an effort to reduce transmission between employees, he said. Employees wear a combination of rubber and leather gloves that can be cleaned with alcohol sanitizer available in every truck.

As recycling service has restarted, new limits have been placed on what items are accepted accepted by Eastern Carolina Vocational Center, which processes recyclables for Pitt County and its municipalities.

The biggest change is that glass is no longer accepted for recycling because if it breaks it contaminates other recyclables, requiring the entire load to be shipped to the landfill.

That increases ECVC’s costs, which increases the county’s costs, Mulligan said.

“We are working to reduce what we call our contamination in recycling, but we are still seeing 20 percent contamination (countywide),” Mulligan said. “That’s high; we need to get that number down.”

Residents can recycle plastic water, juice, soda, milk, and detergent bottles, metal cans, office paper, corrugated cardboard and newspapers.

The cardboard needs to be flattened, Mulligan said, because boxes take up a lot of space in the recycling trucks and cause more trips to the county transfer station.

Recyclables should not should not be bagged, he said.

Single-ply cardboard, the type used in cereal and other food packaging, is not allowed. Disposable cups, paper and plastic, also aren’t allowed, along with any form of Styrofoam or food-tainted items.

The city saw its recycling numbers decrease and its household waste number increase in 2020, Mulligan said, a combination of the change in accepted materials, the multi-family suspension and more waste being generated because more people were spending time at home.

In August 2019 the city collected 254 tons of recyclables; in August 2020 206 tons were collected, a nearly 48-ton difference, Mulligan said.

During the same months, 3,178 tons of waste was collected in 2019; it increased to 4,935 tons in 2020, a 1,757-ton difference.

It’s been challenging for individuals to adopt to the new guidelines, Mulligan said, because for many years people have been told a wide scope of items are recyclable. Now, recyclables are based on what materials have a market.

Pitt County Solid Waste and Recycling Director John Demary is pursuing a grant to purchase containers for its 14 convenience sites so glass bottles and food containers can be collected separate from other recyclables, Mulligan said. If the county gets these containers, city residents will be directed to take their glass recyclables to the convenience sites.

Contact Ginger Livingston at or 252-329-9570.