New Rules of Recycling

The economy and new technology change the recycling game in Knoxville

Recycling had a delayed, but abrupt, entry into the "local life affected by the slowing economy" category.

"In October, cardboard was bringing $95 for a full truckload delivered to the mill, bailed," says Derek Senter, fiber procurement representative for RockTenn Recycling Knoxville, which procures and markets recyclables in this region. "In November, it dropped almost 50 percent. In January, it was $20 a ton."

Other recycling material prices, from steel to plastic, slumped just as quickly, leaving suppliers hurting—and depriving Knoxville's recycling budget of a once-reliable revenue stream. "Sometime around November, companies across the country started stockpiling recyclables, or stopped taking them, or started to charge to take them," says John Homa, City of Knoxville Solid Waste project manager. "We had to put our contract for recyclables back up for bids."

As a result, as of April, RockTenn is processing, handling and/or reselling all recyclables that come into local collection centers. The city pays out for devalued recycling streams, like glass, but the contract is set up so that the city will receive a share of any money brought in by RockTenn if the market improves. Even if it doesn't, the city has no plans to discourage recycling. In fact, it would like to keep expanding. "Recycling saves on air pollution and water over using new materials in manufacturing, it cuts back the air pollution, saves on fuel costs," says Homa.

Though it doesn't affect the city budget, one motivator for increased residential recycling has been the introduction of RecycleBank, a rewards program offered through Waste Connections' single stream curbside recycling program started in March. RockTenn handles recyclables from Waste Connections' city-wide programs in Oak Ridge and Jefferson City and optional programs for residents in Knoxville and Knox County. Senter estimates that the facility was handling 20-25 tons of single stream residential waste per day at the start of the program, and now consistently does 30-40.

And even without sales, recycling can improve the city budget, says Homa. "From the taxpayer standpoint, anything that's recycled instead of going to the landfill saves us in tipping fees."

The recycling program was able to operate within budget last year because the early-year income balanced out the later shortfall. "This coming year, we're not quite sure yet," says Homa. "We're hoping it will be okay, but the market is not coming around that quickly. We do have the money in our budget if we have to pay for hauling or for workers. We hope we don't have to use it, but it's there if we need it. Anything we make to the plus would be great."

Homa, who started as hazardous waste coordinator for the city in 1999, helped initiate recycling in Knoxville in 2001. "The first three or four years, we did maybe 4,500 tons, then we got up past 5,000 tons," he says. "Now the past couple of years it's been closer to 6,000."

Those numbers haven't dropped with the market, and represent 9 or 10 percent of the area's household trash that the city pays to place in the landfill. "Some other cities, particularly in the West, may do more like 15 or 20 percent," says Homa. "But we are continually improving."

Who Takes What?

What can you recycle? And how? Here's where to start, and resources for more complicated questions:

Accepted and recycled at Knoxville Recycling Centers (

  • #1-#7 plastic containers (must have a recycle logo labeled on container)
  • Aluminum and steel cans
  • Mixed paper, any type that is 100 percent paper, including envelopes with plastic windows or hard-bound books
  • Clear, brown, green glass
  • Cardboard (flattened)
  • Newspaper (including inserts)
  • Reusable household goods
  • Household batteries (lithium, ni-cad, and rechargeable only)

Accepted and recycled at Knox County Recycling Centers (

  • Plastic (#1-7)
  • Newspaper (except Tazewell Pike and Karns centers)
  • Aluminum and steel cans
  • Clear, green, and brown glass
  • Cardboard (only at Dutchtown, Forks of the River, Halls, and John Sevier centers)
  • Mixed paper (only at Halls, Forks of the River, and John Sevier)
  • Scrap metal
  • Used motor oil, filters, antifreeze
  • Yard waste (only at Halls, Forks of the River, and Knox County Greenwaste Facility)
  • Car batteries

Household Hazardous Waste Collection (HHW)

  • This includes fluids and poisons from auto oil and paint to pesticides and fluorescent bulbs.
  • The HHW Center is at 1033 Elm St. and open to Knox County and Knoxville residents free of charge.
  • Tuesday through Friday 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m.-noon
  • No more than 10 gallons or 100 pounds per visit
  • 215-6700
  • Directions and list of HHW materials:

City and Waste Connection's Bulky Waste Pick-Up

  • Non-hazardous bulky waste, from unusable appliances (not including those with freon) to furniture, are collected from city or county residents at normal garbage pick-up dates­—no more than five items.


  • Clean, in working order and 10 years old or less: Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries (KARM)—free pickup in Knoxville and Knox County, 521-0770
  • Other: Will be recycled, Bulky Waste pickup (see above), Solid Waste Management facility, 215-6700


  • Auto—see Household Hazardous Waste
  • Alkaline 9-volt, AA, AAA, C, D—place in household trash
  • Rechargable, button, cell phone, etc.—attended city recycling centers; HHW Collection Center

Beds, Couches, Other Furniture in Good Shape

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