Single stream increases recycling in Swain


Swain County has had a recycling program in place since the 1990s, but a recent change over to a single-stream recycling program has increased participation among residents. 

Single-stream recycling allows residents to dump all of their recyclables — paper, plastic, cardboard, glass, etc. —into one bin that is later separated out and processed by county employees. 

“We were using a separation system but switched over to single-stream about two years ago,” said Swain County Manager Kevin King. “And we’ve done a lot more recycling since we bought the large compactors and went single-stream.”

Unlike other counties, Swain only has one convenience center for trash and recycling drop offs located on Old U.S. 19 in Bryson City. While the center used to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for convenience, the county had to begin setting hours at the site two years ago after spending about $350,000 to better secure the site with a fence and to purchase new trash and recycling compactors. 

The problem was mostly with illegal dumping — people bringing their trash and recycling from other counties. Now the center is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays. 

Swain County accepts all recyclable materials but there is a fee for certain items, including TVs and other electronics. 

“One year we had 10,000 TVs recycled because we let people bring them for free — we think people were bringing them to us from other counties,” King said. “So we had to start charging a $5 fee because we do have to pay to get rid of those.”

Like others in the region, King said sometimes the county makes money or at least breaks even on some recyclable items while other items can cost more to ship off because of the current market. 

“For example, plastics — China isn’t accepting all of it like it used to — but we’re still doing good on cardboard and metals,” he said. 

Either way, it’s worth it to the county to try to keep trash out of the landfill because it saves on sanitation costs. Other counties have their own landfills, but Swain County hauls its trash to Homer, Georgia, which means the county has to absorb transportation costs and has to pay per ton to dump its waste in Homer. 

Recent legislation passed in Georgia will have Swain paying three times more in tipping fees when taking trash to Homer. King said the county has been paying 50 cents per ton and it could go up to $1.50 per ton. The county is also looking at the possibility of hauling its trash to Haywood County’s landfill instead to save money (see story on page 6).

For more information on Swain’s recycling program, visit

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