In the Loop Logo

Issue 1

Paper Cups, Cartons & Containers are NOW recyclable in ACC

Paper Cups are recyclable

Paper cups used for coffee and soft drinks can now be collected for recycling in Athens-Clarke County. Athens-Clarke County becomes the first community in Georgia to add paper cups to its recycling program, thanks to a partnership with the Foodservice Packaging Institute. Athens-Clarke County residents are encouraged to clean and empty their paper coffee and soda cups, and place in their recycling cart or drop them off at one of the county's recycling centers. In addition to paper cups, clean and empty paper food containers and paper items, such as cup carriers and egg cartons, are now accepted in recycling carts. As with all recyclables, they must be clean and empty to be recycled.

Recycling Division receives funding from FPI and Coca-ColaNew Recycling Truck Wrap

The Athens-Clarke County Recycling Division has been recognized for our innovative programming in the best possible way – money!

The Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI) and Coca-Cola North America contributed a combined $16,700 of cash and in-kind services to promote recycling and reduce contamination in Athens-Clarke County.

“This is huge,” said Joe Dunlop, waste reduction administrator for ACC Solid Waste Department. “This assistance will go a long way to reducing contamination in our recycling, and encourage residents and businesses to recycle as much material as possible.”

FPI’s focus is to promote the recyclability of clean, empty paper containers – specifically, the all-American paper cup. Long banned from recycling programs, including here in Athens, the lowly paper cup can now be included in our mixed recycling collection program. Paper mills have evolved to be able to handle the small amount of plastic liner (plastic, not wax) in paper cups. 

Coca-Cola is eager to promote the recyclability of its products, specifically plastic soda and water bottles, and of course aluminum cans. Here in Athens, these specific items typically find their way through local channels into products that are sold worldwide. 

“Paper cups get turned into cardboard boxes, and I think everyone has seen more cardboard boxes these days, so there is increased demand for paper fiber,” Dunlop said. “Plastic Coke bottles go to northwest Georgia to get turned into carpet, and aluminum cans get melted in nearby Greene County, where Novelis Aluminum sells the metal to companies like Ford Motor Company to go into new pickup trucks.

“When you recycle your containers and paper, you are diverting your scrap from our landfill, and instead sending it to domestic manufacturers who need the raw material,” Dunlop added. 

The funding will be used to wrap ACC Solid Waste collection vehicles with a recycling message encouraging customers to include clean, empty containers in their recycling. Look for additional media outreach in coming months, from ACC Recycling Division and our program partners. 

Joe Dunlop is the ACC Waste Reduction Administrator. He can be reached at

Recycling 101

Mason teaching recyclingAthens Clarke County has the best waste-diversion programming in Georgia. If residents or businesses were to take full advantage of every opportunity to avoid sending stuff to our landfill, we could divert 90% or more of our ‘waste.’

After you send your stuff to the mixed recycling collection (curbside, dumpster or drop-off), CHaRM (Center for Hard to Recycle Materials), composting and Teacher Reuse Store or area thrift stores, there’s just not much left for the landfill. 

And if greening your footprint isn’t a good enough reason, try greening Georgia’s economic impact – most of your recycling stays in Georgia and Southeast. 

Easy to recycle, but often landfilled – 

  1. Cardboard It’s not exciting, but about 750,000 TONS of plain old cardboard boxes still get landfilled in Georgia every year (last we knew – State of Georgia stopped funding this sort of research.)
  2. Aluminum cans Duh. Ours go two counties away to Novelis Aluminum in Greensboro, and find their way into products like Ford F-150s. That’s ‘Murican.
  3. Paper for packaging and reading – not eating or wiping. Most of Georgia’s 20+ paper mills use at least some recycled content.
  4. Clean, rigid, plastic containers No Styrofoam. Caps can stay on.
  5. Glass bottles Still recyclable in Athens’ mixed recycling collection. 

We try to make it as convenient as we can to divert your scrap material, but there are some rules – you can’t just put everything in the recycling container! Like most recycling programs nationwide, we see a lot of the same mistakes.

Top Five ‘Joe’s No’s’

  1. Plastic bags. Keep recyclables loose, and despite the recycling symbol, plastic grocery bags cannot be recycled in the mixed recycling collection. Instead, take these to CHaRM or many retail stores. 
  2. Styrofoam TM - It has that #6, but cannot survive the sorting process, and these cups, containers and packing material are too light to efficiently ship to market. 
  3. Food. Leftovers smear the clean paper. Ick.
  4. Scrap metal – Like a lot of items, your dead lawnmower, worn drill bits and bent frying pan are absolutely recyclable just not in the mixed recycling collection, where they can become dangerous projectiles. 
  5. If in doubt, throw it out. Better yet, ask the experts and find out -

Joe Dunlop is the ACC Waste Reduction Administrator. He can be reached at

Resolution for Zero Waste

It’s not too late to include waste reduction in your New Year’s Resolution. Throughout the year, I’ll be sharing tips on how you can reduce your waste at your business and at home. 

Other than waste from food and liquid consumption, humans are the only species that leave waste. Nature has a plan for all its “waste” to be used as “food” for other processes. Zero waste is simply a goal to keep all waste out of our landfills by reusing all material, just like as in nature. We need to relook at how we view our trash and see all discarded materials are valuable resources for others to use. 

Here are some simple ways to get closer to zero waste: 

Go digital- Is there an office function currently using paper that could be paperless? .- Ensure all office printers are set to double-sided printing as the default.  

Reuse office supplies- Develop a program to collect and redistribute unwanted office supplies and/or materials internally or externally. 

Use reusable food ware- Provide reusable/durable alternatives to disposable service ware in employee break rooms and common areas, and to customers if applicable.

Recycle – Check to see that all items that can be recycled are, whether in the main mixed recycling collection system, or taken individually to the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials. And if you are a business in Athens-Clarke County, you are required to recycled per Ordinance Sec. 5-2-14 (i).

Compost – Here in Athens, composting can include virtually anything that used to be alive. This includes food scraps of course, but can include non-recyclable paper (like paper hand towels.)

Close the loop- Buying products made of recycled content closes the loop where you buy something, it gets recycled and then you buy it again.

TRUEDenise Plemmons, our Commercial Recycling Specialist and TRUE Advisor, is available to help your business reach its zero waste goals. TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency) Zero Waste certification, administered by Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), helps facilities define, pursue and achieve zero waste goals while becoming more resource efficient and preventing waste from being manufactured. TRUE Advisors lead businesses through best practices, tools for tracking and reporting waste diversion and access to essential TRUE resources. She can be reached at

MeRFi's Corner

Merfi's CornerHi! I’m MeRFi or MRF for short. I’m named after the Material Recovery Facility where all of our recycling goes. I am the resident cat at the Solid Waste Department and Recycling Therapist. Yes, Recycling Therapist. It seems to me like you humans seem to have a love/hate relationship with Recycling. I would like to open a dialogue to resolve some issues. Just like any relationship, there has to be understanding and compromise. If I may speak on behalf of Recycling, it often feels neglected. Things are thrown in the recycling bin that shouldn’t be there and Recycling is expected to sort it all out. That’s too much pressure and it really isn’t that hard. Just remember cardboard, paper, plastic bottles and containers, metal cans, and glass bottles and jars. You have to try a little harder and learn what Recycling wants and needs. Understanding why things can or cannot be recycled is key to helping this relationship move to the next level. Show Recycling that you care. Don’t throw dirty recycling in the bin. Make time for Recycling and show it that you respect it and value it. Please send me your recycling questions and let’s see if we can work this out together. Remember ‘If in Doubt – Throw it Out.’ But I like to add ‘Ask me to find out!’

Dear MeRFi,
My husband said that you can’t recycle shredded paper. But you can recycle paper can’t you? I don’t see what the difference is. Isn't it still just paper.

~Shredded and Confused

Dear Shredded and Confused,
Let’s dive in to shredded paper. One thing to understand about Recycling is that you can’t just ask if it can be recycled. Potentially anything can be recycled, in theory. The term we should use is “accepted.” Most items can be recycled in theory – which explains some of the ambitious recycling claims out there. But most items have some limitations. Shredded paper can be recycled in Athens, but it must be kept separate. Loose in the main processing facility, it turns into confetti. Even bags of shredded paper usually rupture, and the tiny bits stick to the glass and end up in the trash. With paper, anything smaller than a Post-It Note, 2” x 2”, probably won’t be captured during processing. 

Now I enjoy a good shredding party, but the staff at the MRF don’t. However, if the shredded paper is collected separately such as at the CHaRM or through designated “Shredded Paper Only” dumpsters, it doesn’t have to be processed through the facility since it is already sorted and can go straight to the baler and then sent off to be recycled into ….toilet paper. 

Recycling can be complex if you think too hard, not that many humans think at all, so save yourself the trouble and just keep it simple. For a list of what is accepted for single stream recycling, go to

Beverage cartons explained – peeling back the layers

Recycling educators have a challenging task – our world is filled with asterisks, exceptions and frustrating answers like ‘well it depends…’

Here, we’ll do a deep dive into paper beverage cartons. Back in the day, it was only milk cartons. Now, half-gallon juice, single-serve juice, energy drinks, even wine can be found in these containers. Is it a piece of paper, or a container? What happens to the wax? What about the little cap? 

There are two basic types of beverage cartons – the gable top cartons that require refrigeration, and the aseptic containers that do not require refrigeration. As the illustration shows, these are complicated little containers! For starters, these do not contain a wax coating. The refrigerated gable top containers have layers of paper and plastic – the #4 low density polyethylene often found in plastic grocery bags. They are approx. 80% paper, and 20% plastic.

The shelf-stable aseptic cartons add a very thin layer of aluminum to maintain product freshness without refrigeration.  These are about 70% paper, 20% plastic, and the rest is aluminum. The aluminum helps make the container more rigid, contributing to a long shelf life.The Layers of a Carton

To answer most people’s first question, ‘Are these recyclable,’ the answer is yes – in Athens-Clarke County. They are not included in many recycling programs. Here in Athens, both types of containers are included with our mixed paper, which includes junk mail, magazines, newspaper. These bales are sold to Pratt Industries in Conyers, GA. Their paper mill makes cardboard for Amazon and Domino’s Pizza, among others. The plastic and aluminum does not truly get recycled, but after being separated from the paper fiber it is burned along with other residue to generate energy used to run the huge paper mill.

Those layers of thin plastic, similar to a paper cup, are what held the paper recycling industry back from accepting cartons and cups. Now there are enough of these containers, and a method of dealing with the non-paper liners, that most paper mills are able to handle the combination of material.

Derric Brown is Sustainability Manager for Evergreen Packaging and a member of the US Carton Council. Evergreen makes cartons in their Athens plant, and cups and paperboard for both in Canton, N.C. According to Brown, Americans prefer the taste and texture of refrigerated beverages, while elsewhere customers are fine with the shelf-stable products that require heating before being sealed. For this reason, about 80% of the paper containers in the U.S. are refrigerated gable-top, and 20% are aseptic. 

Like many materials, new possible markets are on the horizon. Among them domestic manufacturers of ceiling tiles. The plastic and aluminum gives the tiles additional rigidity. 

So if you’re wondering what to do with the cap, or the little straw on your kid’s juice box, stick it back into the pack when she’s done. It won’t turn into litter, and it will help fuel a recycled content paper mill in nearby Conyers. 

I’ll sip to that. 

Joe Dunlop is the ACC Waste Reduction Administrator. He can be reached at

"Renewing" Their Vows

Couple lost Wedding Ring in recyclingAn Athens-area man's wedding ring was recovered from one of the Athens-Clarke County Recycling Drop Off Dumpsters in December. The Winterville couple, who will be celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary in June of 2021, described it as "a Christmas miracle!" The ring was found in the very bottom of the recycling dumpster by Mason Towe and Joe Dunlop of the ACC Recycling Division and Lance Rosario of the ACC Solid Waste Collections Division, after digging through through hundreds of bottles, cans, paper, and cardboard. Following what we are sure was a very stressful Sunday evening for the couple, Monday morning resulted in an energizing and celebratory start to the week!

Mason Towe is the ACC Program Education Specialist for the Recycling Division. He can be contact at

COVID-19 Virtual Programming

Virtual Programming for ACC RecyclingCOVID-19 uprooted a lot of programs this year, but it also forced us to enhance and reinvent existing events. In May, we celebrated International Compost Awareness Week with a virtual Story Time series read by commissioners, staff, and friends from around the county, educational video tours of our facilities, and a special cameo appearance from former University of Georgia Football Coach and Athletic Director, Vince Dooley, who we "Caught Composting!"

Vulture Fest

In coordination with the Oconee Rivers Audubon Society (ORAS) and ACC Leisure Services, ACC Solid Waste Department hosted the seventh annual Vulture Festival in October 2020. This year programs were primarily virtual with many of the crafts and other activities available online for families to participate from home. We did offer limited registration slots for the in-person scavenger hike, as well as the morning Bird Walks led by ORAS. Leisure Services hosted their annual Roadkill Cafe program virtually, which served both the Vulture Festival and their Scary Oozy Slimy Day.

Composting pumpkinsFor the first time this fall, ACCSW collected broken and rotted pumpkins at Milledge Avenue Baptist Church and composting five drop off sites around the community. They were transported as part of the food scraps composting program, located at the ACC Municipal Composting facility on Lexington Road.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7

CHaRM and Landfill Appointments

CHaRMAppointments for Landfill began at the end of March 2020, with a similar system being adopted when the CHaRM reopened in May. With the goal of spacing customers throughout each day, users of each facility are required to make an appointment through our website before visiting the ACC Landfill and CHaRM. This system has been very effective in keeping both staff and customers safer, as well as streamlining the payment and disposal processes. As of the end of the year, we have hosted over 4500 appointment customers at the CHaRM and over 14,800 customers at the Landfill.

What's new in the Teacher Reuse Store

The Teacher Reuse Store (TRS) provides free classroom materials and school supplies to educators in Athens-Clarke, Barrow, Jackson, Oconee, Oglethorpe, and Madison counties. Teachers can visit the TRS website to make an appointment, and individuals and organizations can set up appointments to make donations on the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM) page When you visit for your appointment, you’ll meet our TRS Coordinator, Abigail West. Be sure to say hi! Teachers may subscribe to our email list to receive updates on new items in the store by emailing , or check out the Facebook page.

Teachers continue to fpaper stacks on shelvesace immense challenges in the pandemic. They’ve had to fully adapt their classrooms, first to become virtual and now, in many cases, to be in-person with masks, Plexiglas, social distancing, and individual supplies for each student. Fortunately, the Teacher Reuse Store can help offset some of their financial burden. We’ve given out many supplies such as computer monitors, whiteboards, desks, chairs, shelving units, binders (so many binders), and all kinds of school and organizational supplies and materials. In September, October, and November we served 135 teachers and gave out about 7000 pounds of material.

Reuse tops Recycling on the waste-diversion hierarchy, so please see if your scrap material might have a second life with an area educator. And if you know a teacher, make sure they know the Teacher Reuse Store!

Abigail West is the Teacher Reuse Store Coordinator. She can be reached at

GreenLifeEXPOlogo192020 GreenLife Awards

The 2020 Green Life Expo & Awards was actually one of our last fully in-person events of 2020. H eld on leap day, February 29, 2020, at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, GreenLife hosted approximately 90 attendees for the expo, 100 attendees for the Student Art Awards Ceremony, and 125 award recipients and attendees for the Green Life Awards Ceremony and Reception. 37 organizations exhibited (65 staff), 11 organizations presented awards, and 19 staff helped run the event. 

ACCGOV Recycling Division
Waste Innovator………………………….....………....EcoHood
Business Waste Reduction……………………………Community
School Waste Reduction………………………………Double Helix STEAM School
Oscar, Recycling Coordinator of the Year……….......Irena Epling
Solid Waste Champion………………................….....Axel Skobba

Master Composter Program (UGA Extension & ACC Solid Waste Dept.)
Rot Star……………....................................................Maepole

Upcoming Events Calendar

tapping into community2021 is the year to "Renew, Reinvent, and Rejoice!" We are looking forward to great things in the new year, and hope that you will continue to join us for our special events and programming, whether they are presented virtually or in person. One to keep an eye out for is our 2021 Green Life Awards, presented virtually by Terrapin Brewery via their social media programming. For all of you families with kiddos out there, please participate in our Green Life Art,Photography, and Poetry Contest! Submissions are due March 1st, 2021. This year's contest theme: “Renew, Reinvent, Rejoice!”