By Mary Harrington

Have you ever taken a real good look at the things you throw away every day? If you did, you’d discover that people in metro Atlanta are throwing away over a million tons a year of very easy to recycle items. Things like cardboard, newspaper, aluminum, steel, glass, and plastics make up a huge percentage of the region’s garbage.

Oddly enough, Georgia has some of the best markets in the country for most of these recyclables – and industries are searching far and wide for the things we throw away every day.  For example, carpet mills in North Georgia use PET bottles (like soda and water bottles) in their carpet production process. These mills also use HDPE (milk jugs) as a feedstock and yet residents in Atlanta throw away over 70,000 tons of the PET and HDPE bottles the mills in Dalton pay to get from other states. These easily recycled plastic bottles are valuable resources in Georgia’s manufacturing sector.

Georgia paper mills consume used newspapers, old cardboard, office paper, mixed paper, and paperboard to make new paper products, but Atlantans annually throw away over 900,000 tons of this valuable manufacturing resource. All of these paper products can be recycled at the curb in our City of Atlanta neighborhoods, and large amounts of cardboard can be taken to area drop sites (see earth911.org to find more locations around Atlanta and more information about recycling).

There’s an aluminum recycling plant in Greensboro, Ga. that has to buy used aluminum beverage cans from all over the Southeast and Puerto Rico.  The owners of this facility would much rather pay lower freight costs by getting the 20,000 tons of aluminum cans metro residents throw away. State steel recycling operations would also prefer to get the 40,000 tons of steel cans thrown away.

The City of Atlanta has a comprehensive curbside recycling program for single and family residences and some multi-family buildings. These customers pay for recycling service whether they use the service or not. The recycling program is called “single stream,” which means all the things accepted in the program go into one container – no sorting necessary (the sorting is done later at area processors).  Businesses in Georgia need the recyclables we throw away, and someday recyclers may be rewarded with lower garbage fees.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.