Recycle Right: Only You Can Prevent Trash Fires

A small fire at a recycling center caused by the hazardous waste materials

Holiday time is also “trash fire season” for us in Mecklenburg County Solid Waste and Recycling. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, there is a general increase in household waste. With that, we see more fires in our trash recycling systems due to “wishful recycling.” 

Fires occur in solid waste systems when residents and businesses improperly dispose of items that cannot be recycled or thrown in the trash -- like batteries, chemicals, and hot coals from fireplaces or stoves. These fires disrupt the normal collection of waste and recycling, can destroy expensive equipment, and could be a serious safety hazard for our employees.  

Mecklenburg County had a fire occur at the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) when a residential load of recyclables was dumped in early December 2023. The picture below shows the flames just starting to erupt. Luckily, the driver of a nearby truck noticed it and let the operations staff know. 

This incident was caught early and was extinguished, but it delayed operations for that day as staff ensured that the situation was under control. As a result of this, other trucks could not dump their loads at the MRF, leading to delays in collection routes and calls of missed collections from residents when trucks cannot complete their assigned daily routes. 

Residents must understand the importance of never throwing away batteries, chemicals that burn (like propane tanks and oils), or embers from a fireplace or grill with their trash or recycling. Household hazardous waste, like the items earlier, can be brought to any County full-service recycling center for free disposal. Once you arrive, just let our on-site staff know that you have hazardous waste, and we’ll take it from there. 

Fire is a real danger to the County’s recycling system. It’s up to our residents to learn not to burn and be our first line of defense. If you still have questions about what is accepted in trash versus recycling, use the CheckMeck Waste Search tool online or email us at [email protected]