The Sandy Springs Recycling Center on Morgan Falls Road. (Carol Niemi)

If your neighborhood has curbside trash pick-up, you probably have a separate bin with a yellow lid just for recycling. All your recyclables go into the same bin in a “single stream.” In my neighborhood, on trash day, almost every yellow-topped bin is packed so full the lids don’t close. Unfortunately, much of what’s in those bins will probably end up in a landfill.

Cynics say waste haulers don’t really recycle any of it. Though that may be happening in some neighborhoods today because of a temporary labor shortage, the real reason is that the local policies governing what is and isn’t recyclable are so complicated most of us have no clue.

The list of universally recyclable items is simple: bottles, cans, paper and cardboard. Easy? Not so fast.

The list of what is not recyclable is almost endless: glass, plastic bottle lids separated from bottles, plastic lids to cans, wet or soiled paper, plastic bags, plastic wrap, bubble wrap, plastic sandwich bags, freezer bags, flexible packaging like chip bags and juice or soup pouches, garden hoses, rope, leashes, wire and string, dirty diapers, cups with plastic or wax coating and their lids, polystyrene foam and plastic to-go containers and cups, food and beverage containers made of wax or plastic coated paper, electronics, batteries, anything containing hazardous waste, appliances, furniture, books, bicycles, clothing and textiles and almost anything else you’d like to get rid of.

To make things even more confusing, you can’t trust the Mobius Loop (that ubiquitous little triangle of three chasing green arrows) because it means only that an item “might” be recyclable depending on where you live. Some recyclable items, such as paper and cardboard don’t bear the symbol at all. And on plastic items, the Mobius Loop may contain a number from 1 to 7 indicating the type of plastic an item is made from. You will have to do some research to find out if your curbside service accepts that particular plastic.

So why not just throw everything into your curbside recycling bin and let the pros figure it out? Your waste hauler will take everything to a MRF (municipal recovery facility) where it’s sorted by hand and machine. Some materials like glass can be hazardous to humans and damaging to the equipment. A bag that gets stuck can shut the whole MRF down. And if you put a dirty pizza box in your bin and it contaminates other items, all of it will end up in a landfill. 

Luckily, if you really care about recycling, there’s a solution. Just off Roswell Road on Morgan Falls Road, nestled against the rolling hills of the Steel Canyon Golf Club, formerly a Fulton County landfill, is the Sandy Springs Recycling Center, a joint project of Keep North Fulton Beautiful and the City of Sandy Springs. The SSRC accepts many items you would never consider putting in your recycling bin.

Sandy Springs Recycling Center Executive Director Kathy Reed. (Peden Two Elk)

Managed by Executive Director Kathy Reed, the facility operates with only four employees plus volunteers and others performing court-ordered community service. On my two visits there, I found it to be a clean, happy place. It also redefined what I thought was recyclable.

At the SSRC, recyclable also means reusable. Besides for taking the usual, it also accepts glass, Christmas trees chipped into mulch, large household appliances, anything containing metal that can be used for scrap, batteries and electronics (some for a fee and some only from Sandy Springs residents).

It also has partnerships with other non-profits that clean, refurbish and distribute to those in need other items that might otherwise end up in the trash. 

For example, an on-site American Kidney Fund truck collects clothing, shoes and small household goods. Free Bikes 4 Kidz refurbishes old bicycles. Better World Books finds new homes for old books. The Sandy Springs Rotary Club collects used home medical equipment for FODAC (Friends of Disabled Adults and Children) to refurbish for reuse. And fats, oils and grease are sent to a company that turns them into biodiesel fuel and glycerin.

An on-site American Kidney Fund truck collects clothing, shoes and small household goods. (Carol Niemi)

Certain plastics and papers are sold, funding 30 percent of the center’s operating expenses. And not everything is acceptable. To find out what is, visit

The Sandy Springs Recycling Center is open 9:00 am – 5:00 pm daily except Wednesday and Sunday. Someone is always there to help you.

The address is 470 Morgan Falls Road. A fringe benefit of taking your recyclables there is that if you keep driving, you can visit the beautiful park at Morgan Falls.

Carol Niemi

Regular contributor Carol Niemi is a marketing consultant and writes about people making a difference in our little corner of the world. If you know someone "worth knowing," email her at