Recycling

Report trash, recycling or cart issues to (865) 215-4311 or 311office@knoxvilletn.gov

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Patience Melnik
Waste and Resources Manager
pmelnik@knoxvilletn.gov
865-215-4311
Makenzie Read
Waste and Resources Coordinator
mread@knoxvilletn.gov
865-215-2817



NOTICE REGARDING HOLIDAYS: “When in doubt, set it out!” Thanksgiving and Christmas are the only days of the year when curbside trash and recycling are not picked up as scheduled. For the week following those two holidays, collection is delayed by one day and Sanitation Workers work through Saturday to catch up. The following Monday, service resumes as usual.


Report Missed Pickup Sign Up for Curbside Recycling
What's My Service Day? Can I Recycle This?
Curbside Recycling Guide Recycling Drop-Off Centers
FAQs Resources


THE CITY OF KNOXVILLE'S RECYCLING PROGRAM
2020 Waste and Recycling Profile
The City of Knoxville's recycling program started in the 1980s with the introduction of its first Recycling Drop-off Centers. Mixed (or "single-stream") recycling arrived a few decades later, in 2011. Since then recycling has expanded and today 30,000 Knoxville households (just over 50%!) are signed up for this free and convenient service. Knoxville's recycling households are saving space in our landfill, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, creating jobs, and contributing to the regional economy.

The mixed recycling collected in the curbside bins is delivered to WestRock, the materials recovery facility located near downtown Knoxville. Here, workers and then high-tech equipment remove contaminants and sort the recyclables into various materials. Paper, cardboard, metals, and plastics are then baled and sold to regional manufacturers in Knoxville, Alcoa, North Georgia, and Atlanta, who in turn use them to make new products.

Recycling remains viable in our community when everyone does their part to minimize detrimental contamination. Some items that are not recyclable can contaminate the purity and thus the value and salability of other materials, can damage the recycling equipment, and can pose health and safety risks for workers. Although it seems counter-intuitive, it is always best to throw an item in the trash unless you are certain it is recyclable.

Remember this rule of thumb: when in doubt, throw it out! Double check the list of materials accepted in the curbside recycling carts and at the recycling drop-off centers, and use the "What Goes Where" look-up tool to see if a particular item is accepted before you "wish-cycle" it.

For more information, please do not hesitate to contact the Waste and Resources Management office. 

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GLASS RECYCLING

As of January 2017, glass is no longer accepted in the City curbside recycling carts. However, GLASS IS STILL ACCEPTED AT THE CITY'S FIVE RECYCLING DROP-OFF CENTERS.

This change was due to a combination of factors. Unlike the separated glass collected at the Recycling Drop-Off Centers, glass from the curbside recycling carts must travel down the sorting line to separate it from other recyclable materials. During this process, it:
• breaks into tiny shards and contaminates other materials, such as the paper, plastic, and cardboard bales, which reduces their grade and value
• damages the expensive sorting equipment
• poses as safety hazard to workers on the line
• mixes with tiny bits of paper, caps, plastic, and miscellaneous trash, resulting in a glass-garbage product that is so contaminated that it is nearly worthless. 

The value of glass that has been through the sorting line is so low that no regional manufacturer will pay enough to cover the cost of processing and shipping it. Glass and other recyclables are commodities whose values fluctuate, but the value of post-consumer glass has been depressed for years and the outlook remains low. No matter how much we want to recycle a particular material, if no manufacturer wants to buy it, it just isn't recyclable. Many communities across the country have lost their curbside glass recycling in the last decade due to these factors.

Glass collected at the City's recycling drop-off centers is less contaminated and requires much less processing; its higher value makes it possible to collect and truck it to the closest glass factory, which is Strategic Materials in Atlanta.

Remember: the five City Recycling Drop-off Centers are the only place in Knox County where you can currently recycle glass.  


IS EVERYTHING IN MY BIN REALLY RECYCLED?

Rest assured: everything you place in your bin that can be baled and sold is recycled. Unfortunately, a whopping 25% of what the average American places in their bin is not recyclable. The City of Knoxville's recycling program is not obligatory and residents recycle by choice, so our contamination rates are lower than the national average--around 15%. Once the valuable recyclable materials from your bin are sorted and baled at WestRock, they are sold to these various regional manufacturers who recycle them into new products.

  • STEEL: Gerdau Ameristeel, Knoxville
  • ALUMINUM: Arconic, Alcoa
  • FIBERS (paper and cardboard): WestRock, various locations in the Southeast
  • GLASS (from Knoxville's recycling centers only): Strategic Materials, Atlanta
  • PLASTIC*: Mohawk Flooring, North GeorgiaRecycling Cart

Please note that currently, there is no “end-market” buyer for the #3-7 plastics, which make up less than 2% of the recyclables collected in Knoxville. When the City first rolled out its curbside recycling program, the #3-7s were sold, but that market has dwindled to nothing over the years. In January 2021, Eastman Chemical in Kingsport announced that it will soon begin “chemical recycling” all plastics (except PVC, #3s), a process that would enable plastics to be recycled infinitely, rather than "downcycled." This development could once again create a market for the #3-7s.

Unlike glass, plastic bags, and food, which damage the recycling sorting equipment and contaminate the bales of other recyclable materials, plastics #3-7 do not “harm” the recycling system. They make up a very small percent of the materials and are easily removed on the sorting line with WestRock's high-tech optical readers. For this reason, you may continue to place plastics #3-7 (but no bags please) in your recycling if you wish. If you chose not to place these plastics in your bin, please check this webpage periodically to see if plastics #3-7 recycling has resumed. Until all market opportunities for these materials are exhausted, we will maintain our current official guidance on cart stickers, dumpster signage, mailers, or on our Recycling Guide webpage.

Please feel free to contact our office with any questions. 

 

CAN I RECYCLE THAT?

Do you have questions about what you can recycle in your bin? We have the answers! See the simple guide below to learn what can and can’t be recycled or check the list of materials accepted in the curbside recycling carts and at the recycling drop-off centers. If you still have questions, try the "What Goes Where" look-up tool to see if a particular item is accepted before you recycle it.

For more information about the City of Knoxville’s recycling program, contact the Waste and Resources Management Office at 215-2817.

View the Can I Recycle That Guide in PDF format

Recycling info