Field Trip: Where Does Our Recycling Go?


On Wednesday, November 16th, twenty-one of us took a trip to North Raleigh to visit the Sonoco Recycling Center. It was a great experience for us to learn about what happens to our recycling after being picked up by the truck.


It all starts here at the transfer station. This location in Durham is where both recycling and garbage trucks come deposit what they picked up from our curbs. Their contents are dumped into trailers and hauled to their perspective locations.


The machine pictured is responsible for sorting all our recyclables. It is called the Material Recovery Facility (MRF). The feed all the recycling into the MRF where the sorting begins.


We all had a lot of questions for our tour guide Cesar. He answered a lot of misconceptions about what happens to our recycling and surprised us with how the market of recyclables works. He explained how the materials went through the system, were sorted, and then shipped to other locations and made into packaging for products we use every day.


All our recyclables heading up the conveyor belt to get sorted!


This belt separates the paper products from the glass, aluminum and plastics. Then they are sent to the respective locations to be bailed and prepped for shipment.


Here workers are doing a quality control check get any debris or garbage that may till be mixed in with the aluminum.


Here are all our recyclables bailed and ready to be shipped out to other locations to be remade into new packaging. As you can see this place is a very busy facility that works 24/7 to sort out our waste and keep it from landfills.

We want to thank Sonoco and their employees for being such great hosts. We all learned a lot from the visit. Thanks to Oscar Lyons and Patricia Fossum of Durham Sold Waste Management. Oscar got us to and from the locations safely, and Patricia showed us around the Durham transfer site. Also, thank you to Chelsea Arey of Wake Solid Waste Management for helping to coordinate the visit.


America Recycles Day


While recycling has become more accessible over the years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)[1], Americans only recycle 34.4% of the waste we produce. With the volume of world-wide waste expected double by 2025[2], we have a lot of work to do to increase recycling rates and continue educating our community about the importance of recycling.

As part of this effort our national affiliate organization, Keep America Beautiful (KAB), has designated November 15th as America Recycles Day. Today, across the country people are working to promote recycling in their communities and KAB is asking people to take a pledge to learn more about recycling, start reducing waste at home, school, and work and to teach others in about recycling.

So on America Recycles Day this year, we want to encourage you to take the America Recycled Day pledge and make efforts to keep reducing your waste. Curious what we can recycle here in Durham? Here is a helpful guideline for what items are accepted in our community:




Remember to rinse out and empty all items you wish to recycle. Also, it is important for any cardboard you want to be clean of chemicals or paints and dry.

*Plastic bags can be recycled at any location that accept film plastic. Both Harris Teeter and Food Lion typically have containers for recycling plastic bags and other film plastics at the store entranceway allowing you to easily drop off your old plastic bags before grocery shopping. (Or for the advanced recycle: choose to bring a reusable bag!) For a full list of nearby locations that accept film plastics, visit: Plastic Film Recycling Locations


Another great way you can help reduce waste in our landfills is by investing in Don’t Waste Durham’s GreentoGo box. Since most takeaway containers are not recyclable, these boxes give you a reusable method to bring leftovers home. For more information and to support this innovative new program, please visit their Kickstarter

Still have questions about what is recyclable or want to get more involved in our mission to reduce waste here in Durham? Contact us at:

[1]Municipal Solid Waste, Environmental Protection Agency,

[2] Global Municipal Solid Waste Continues to Grow, World Watch Institute,

You and Your Child Get Better With Nature

Part of being an adult is having a busy life. There is work, social, and family obligations that keep most of us racing around like we are on a java-fueled bender. When we finally get a moment to relax, we typically pull out our phones to find out how our friends are coping with their equally busy lives. So it is not surprising that our children, who learn through mimicry, tend to do the same things with their electronics. So as adults we need to make an effort to teach our children better habits.

Family Using Electronics on Sofa

Family Using Electronics on Sofa

Science shows that both children and adults benefit greatly from spending time outside. Research has shown repeatedly that time spend outside leads to better health, improved cognitive ability, increased focus, and decreased levels of stress and anxiety. All these benefits can be gained just by ditching the cell phones and tablets for a family walk in the woods. There are also other ways it helps with your child’s development, such as free play.

Those of us that grew up before the Internet was everywhere will be familiar with the concept of free play. Essentially, free play was all the times you went out with your siblings or friends and made up games to play. Studies have found that free play is disappearing from children’s lives and being replaced with structured activities. The problem is that with all these structured activities, children are not learning how to be self-starters. In 2014 the University of Colorado conducted a study that found that kids who spent more time in free play had higher levels of executive function, or the ability to organize, plan, and achieve goals.


Other studies have found that people (children included) who experience a sense of awe by viewing vast open landscapes are able to think more creatively. Researchers believe looking down from a mountaintop or over a vast expanse opens the brain up to seeing problems from new and different angles. This along with correlating research that shows that unplugging from technology and hiking through nature enhances higher order thinking.


Finally, there are the therapeutic aspects of time spent in nature. According to a 2010 University of Essex study, five minutes of exercise in nature is just as effective as medication for some mental health issues. This new idea of using nature for therapy is called Ecotherapy and it is gaining a lot of traction. Outdoor activities are now being prescribed to veterans to help treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Also, regular exercise is a great tool to lower anxiety levels in people.

For more information see:

Biography of Durham’s Finest Tree* No. 3: White Ash (Fraxinus Americana)

By: Wendy Diaz

A White Ash tree in Parkwood is the 2015 Durham’s Finest Trees¹ winner in the ‘large category’ for its species.  On March 6, 2016, four Durham trees located across the city and county were recognized for their size and significance during Durham’s Arbor Day ceremony at the Museum of Life and Science.  The White Ash (Fraxinus Americana) is located near the corner of Timmons Drive and McCormick Road in the Parkwood Neighborhood of South Durham.

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It has a trunk circumference of 123 inches and it is at least 90 feet in height with an average canopy spread of 85 feet.  The white ash dominates the overstory of this small woodland and towers over understory hardwoods that surround it in this dense forest situated along a small tributary to Northeast Creek.  In fact, the height of the Parkwood Ash is close to the current North Carolina Champion Tree of the same species located in Forsyth County (height 100 feet, circumference 206 inches and 102 feet crown spread)¹.

The White Ash is the only southeast native of four ash species that is not a wetland species:  Green Ash-Fraxinus pennsylvanica; Carolina Ash- F. caroliniana; Pumpkin Ash-F. profunda².  A noteworthy characteristic of mature White Ash trees is the diamond-shaped ridging of the gray bark³.  On the west side of the Parkwood White Ash trunk is an area of the ridging that has been worn smooth; most probably from a large animal rubbing on the bark of the lower tree trunk who needed a good scratch.  An interesting bit of trivia for the Durham baseball fans out there—White Ash wood is used for the Louisville Slugger baseball bats.  Ash trees also support at least 150 pollinator species of moths and butterflies including the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail².

pwhiteashvertical pwhiteashrubbedbark pwhiteashdiamondridgebrk


The tree is located in the undeveloped natural area of the Parkwood subdivision, which up until its development in the early 1960’s was a very remote wooded area of Durham County4.  The first home was occupied in August, 19604 and the grand opening of the nearby Parkwood Shopping Center occurred on December 11, 19625).  The award-winning Parkwood neighborhood was linked to the development of the Research Triangle Park (RTP) to provide housing for RTP employees and Parkwood HOA was one of the first homeowners associations formed in North Carolina on September 25th, 19606.

A Serious Threat to Ash Trees

This grand old occupant of Southern Durham County is in danger of the southerly migration of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) from northern states.  The tiny iridescent green EAB, is a native of Asia, and was first discovered in southeastern Michigan in 2002.  It has taken just over a decade to reach North Carolina in 2013 by way of Virginia3.  Typically, the EAB will kill an ash tree within 3 to 5 years after the tree is infested3. It has already killed almost every ash tree species in Ontario and Quebec, Canada and is present in most states east of the Mississippi River.2  Female EABs lay eggs in bark crevasses and when the tiny larvae hatch they chew through the outer bark and then the inner bark.  The EAB bores into the sapwood and feeds on this tissue under the bark resulting in the tree loosing its ability to transfer food and water between the roots and leaves2.  The feeding larvae disrupt the transport systems of the tree by creating winding tunnels (galleries) in the sapwood2.  This time of year in late spring, the EAB has begun to emerge from the ash wood as a mature beetle and will feed on the leaves and reproduce.  To track the pest, The City of Durham is placing sticky traps at known stands of ash7.  These traps mimic the attractive scent that the distressed ash trees emit that is irresistible to the EAB.  If the presence of EAB is confirmed then the City of Durham is eligible to receive parasitoid wasps from the N.C Forest Service, which will eat the EAB larvae and slow the spread of EAB.  In 2014, the pest was found in Durham County but has not been trapped within the city limits, yet7.

2015parkashcrown pwhiteashcrown

The Parkwood White Ash may well be a rarity in our county, if it survives.  It is no longer recommended that ash trees be planted as shade or street trees in our North American cities.  Unlike in the Northeast, Ash trees were rarely planted as street trees in Durham and it is estimated that only six per cent of Durham trees are ash and most are located in floodplains and along streams7.  Please protect the Parkwood White Ash and our existing ash trees by remembering to only use local firewood.  This will prevent unintentional transport of these pests to other stands and please report dying ash trees (initially the top of crown thins and partially dies) to the North Carolina Forest Service:

Photo Credits: Wendy Diaz


  2. Invasive Exotic Insects Threatening Our Native Forests, Emerald Ash Borer in North Carolina by Catherine Bollinger  North Carolina Botanical Garden Conservation Gardener Magazine; Spring & Summer 2016
  7. Durham Now Monitoring for New Invasive Tree Pest, by Alex Johnson, Urban Forestry Manager, General Services Department, City of Durham. Herald-Sun Newspaper, Sunday, May 8, 2016

* Durham’s Finest Trees program recognizes significant trees in Durham County, promotes discovery and ability to identify trees, and helps preserve the best examples of specific tree species, particularly native and those trees well adapted to Durham County. The program also promotes awareness of trees in our community and hopes to catalog fine examples of magnificent specimens of trees due to their size, setting, historical importance, or significant feature.

Durham naturalists and tree lovers of all ages are invited to submit their nominations for significant trees in Durham County now through October 1, 2016. Trees on private or public property can be nominated in each of the three categories: largest, historical, or meritorious. Preference will be given to native North Carolina tree species. Non-native trees may be considered if they are of a species, subspecies, variety or cultivar proven to be relatively long-lived and well adapted to North Carolina. Winning trees will be recognized on Arbor Day 2017. Please read the official rules before submitting a nomination.

Originally published by the Durham Master Gardeners Extension

Biography of Durham’s Finest Tree* No. 3: White Ash (Fraxinus Americana)

How You Can Start Greenscaping in Durham

The practice of greenscaping allows you to put nature to work in your lawn and garden. With smart practices and plantings, you can eliminate some of the chemical usages around your home. This will help lower your impact on the environment. So here are a few changes that you can make to start improving your yard while saving time and money!


The first thing you need to do is develop healthy soil to reduce your dependency on fertilizers. The practice of composting will help you with this. It is easy to build a composter at home with just a plastic garbage can and a drill. The practice of composting breaks down both kitchen and garden waste into nutrient-rich plant food. Each spring as you plant, you can mix in your compost into the soil to feed your plants. While this may not completely eliminate the need for all fertilizers, it will reduce it.

You should also pick plants that are suited for your yard. Knowing how much sun your yard gets and soil type will help with this. Many nurseries clearly label their plants with what environments they will thrive in. It is preferable that you pick native plant species to help protect the wildlife. Also, you can choose plants that invite birds and butterflies into your yard.


You can conserve water if you learn how to efficiently water your garden. The biggest tip is to water early in the morning. Watering in the middle of the day is ineffective. While watering at night encourages the growth of mold. If you don’t want to wake up early, you can use timers and soaker/drip hoses to cut down on water usage. Sprinklers are not the most effective tools for watering. Lastly, using ground cover plants or mulch helps hold the water in through the day so it doesn’t evaporate.


Finally, leave your grass between two to three inches tall. Then mow your yard regularly and leave the grass clippings. Organisms will break them down and turn them into fertilizer for your lawn. Another reason to not trim your lawn too short is that shorter grass is less resistant to weeds. You can save time and money on weed-killing chemicals as your lawn begins to protect itself.

It is important to know that all of this takes time. Your lawn probably won’t become perfect overnight, but with some careful management, you will save time and money down the line. There are many resources for on how to improve your lawn and garden in the Durham area. Check out the Durham Master Gardeners, the North Carolina Native Plant Society, or the North Carolina State University lawn and garden resources.

What’s Up With Upcycling?

There is a hip new trend in Recycling called Upcycling. I will not pretend that this is really a new thing, as people have been repurposing items for years, but it now has become a staple for websites like Pinterest. There is even a competition television show about Upcycling called “Flea Market Flip.” It has also grown into a cottage industry with businesses like Hipcycle and countless Etsy shops that sell repurposed products.


Upcycling is a mix of interior decorating, do-it-yourself (DIY) ethos, and wooden pallets, seriously a lot of pallets. These projects can range from simple to complex or functional to purely aesthetic. For some, they like the challenge of finding atypical ways of using items around their homes. Others enjoy having complete creative control over the products in their homes.


What is really exciting about this is that it works to both reduce the consumption of raw materials and the amount of waste in landfills. By lowering your consumption you will also be saving money. You also can join the before mentioned people who sell some of their upcycled projects. Either way, you will benefit from the practice.


Once you start being creative with things you normally would throw away, you will start to see the world through the filter of how you can repurpose items. Also, this is not something that will be new to you. As kids, we all repurposed items around us, whether building a ramp for our bicycles or a fortress for our action figures. There is no need to buy designated things like pencil holders or likewise products.


You can brand your projects with your personal touches. Instead of standing in the store deciding which lamp or coffee table represents you, you can make your own. On top of that, it will potentially be of higher quality than a mass produced product. You will take pride in your handiwork and you will be content with the knowledge that no one else has the exact same item.


Lastly, many of these projects are things you can do with the family. What a better way to spend a quality day together working on projects. Or coming up with something that nobody has imagined. Do you have any ideas for a great project? How about a story about projects you have done? Let me know at

Working With The Church of the Good Shepherd

For the past two days, Keep Durham Beautiful has been working with the Church of the Good Shepherd’s (CGS) youth group program, Mission Durham. These middle school-aged volunteers are spending a week of their summer doing various community service projects. Through this program, they have spent time working with group homes, retirement communities, and helping to beautify Durham.


Matt W., a group leader for Mission Durham, describes their goal as, “to get middle school-aged kids together and have them just go out in the community and find different places to serve. And try to teach them what it looks like to be in the community and why that is important.”


We first worked with 25 of the CGS volunteers on Tuesday, for a litter cleanup at Elmira Park. In a few hours,  they were able to remove 140-pounds of trash and 140-pounds of recyclables.  Then on Wednesday we met with 15 more from the group to help with maintaining the Briggs Community Garden. While the temperatures soared, these intrepid helpers pulled weeds, helped build a bed for a pollinator garden, and caught nuisance insects. They were motivated both by service and the opportunity to eat blackberries off the vine.


According to one volunteer, Tenaye W. described her motivation for service as, “I think that God has called us to serve one another and that he’s given me so much out of the Earth that I should give back to people and to the Earth.”


For us, we were excited for the opportunity to teach a future generation about pollinators and gardening. At first, they were nervous about being in close proximity to the honeybees but eventually they found them to be interesting. These first-hand experiences help shape the youth’s view of how they interact with the world around them and our role in the ecosystem. It was also great for us to learn how a younger generation interacts with the natural world.

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We could not be more pleased with the time spent with CGS Mission Durham and are very thankful for all the work they have done around the community on their summer break.


Ways You Can Help Fight The Zika Virus In Your Community

As the Rio Olympics rapidly approach one topic that everyone is talking about is the Zika Virus. The reason is because in May 2015 Brazil became ground zero with the first human infection of this outbreak. By today the virus has spread throughout South American and into North America. Now with it in the United States, we must endeavor to stop it’s spread.


(Source: CDC)

Zika is a disease that was first identified in 1947 and named for the Zika forest in Uganda. The disease as appeared throughout Africa, Southeast Asia and Pacific Islands and now has come to the Western Hemisphere. It is spread through certain species of mosquitoes and sexual transmission from an infected male. Some common symptoms of the disease are fever, rash, red eyes, and joint pain. While the disease is rarely fatal, it poses a serious risk to unborn children. If a woman contracts Zika it can cause severe fetal brain defects and/or microcephaly. Microcephaly is when the head is smaller than those of other infants. This can lead to an impairing of brain development.

While the researchers at the University of North Carolina and Duke University work to better understand and fight the disease here are few things you can do to help control the spread of the disease. Share this advice with your neighbors and together you can help lower the mosquito population in your neighborhood.


Mosquitos breed in standing water, so if we want to reduce their numbers, then we have to eliminate their breeding grounds. Anything lying around that collects water is important to remove. This will help reduce the overall population and allow you to take back your yard. It is even suggested that you should empty out dog dishes and refill them daily to help reduce the chance of mosquito larvae. You should also remove any yard debris as they use the moisture held by leaves on the ground. A well-maintained yard goes a long way to help reduce mosquitoes, so protect your family and up your curb appeal all at once. Durham City and County residents are encouraged to dispose of old tires they may have in their yards to help prevent mosquito breeding during our Durham Tire Recycling Drive on Saturday, July 9th (see below).

For more information on the Zika Virus please check out the CDC website.

Durham Tire Recycling Drive

Durham Recycles Tires – Unlimited Free Tire Disposal for Non-Commercial Durham City and County Residents

We are encouraging residents to properly dispose of old tires and other items that may hold standing water to prevent mosquito breeding and the diseases they may carry. The Durham Tire Recycling Drive will take place on Saturday, July 9, 2016 from 8am-2pm at the City of Durham Waste Disposal and Recycling Center (2115 E. Club Blvd.)

The Tire Recycling Drive is a City-County Collaborative effort that includes Keep Durham Beautiful, The City of Durham Solid Waste Management Department, City of Durham General Services Department, the Durham County General Services Department and the Durham County Department of Public Health. Residents will be able to drop off unlimited tires (including tires with rims) for free during the event.

To learn more about mosquito diseases including Zika Virus and ways you can prevent mosquito breeding, visit the Durham County Department of Public Health’s website or check out our blog post about ways you can help fight the zika virus in your community.

50 Shades of Green: The Sex Lives of Plants

What some may not know is that process of pollination is similar to the process of reproduction by animals. Plants have a stamen (“male organ”) and a pistil (“female organ”) in which pollen must travel from the stamen to the pistil. There are various methods to this process with some plants being self-pollinators while others cross-pollinators. Meaning that some produce the pollen they need on their own or they require other plants from the same species for the pollen. Either way, these plants typically require pollinators.
Everyone knows about the importance of bees and how they are common pollinators, but there are a lot more birds, animals, and insects at work in pollination. For this reason, plants have evolved with various mechanisms to attract different pollinators to ensure their species continues. The most common way is through the lure of candy.

Not the candy you hand out on Halloween, but nature’s similar sweet, nectar. This has led to some interesting pollinators, especially carnivores. A recent discovery found the Cape gray mongoose of South Africa is one of these pollinators. The mongoose does not eat plants for sustenance but is drawn in for a sweet treat. The pollen then sticks to their faces as they go from plant to plant seeking more sweets.
Some plants open at night and give off strong smells that attract bats. Many tropical fruits are reliant on bats as major pollinators. While the plants have evolved to attract the bats, the animals have likewise evolved to get the nectar. In Ecuador, the tube-lipped bat, whose tongue is longer than it’s body, is a prime example of this. When symbiotic relationships lead to changes in animals this is called coevolution.

Sometimes it is something as simple as the wind that is the method of pollination. Something we in North Carolina are familiar with on those yellow spring days. Plants have found some rather unique ways to survive from one generation to the next, but the preservation of ecosystems remains vital. That means promoting healthy, sustainable practices in your neighborhood and city. For more information on how you can help protect pollinators check our Healthy Bee, Healthy Me program.


Tips For Hosting A Clean Your Block Party

With Clean Your Block Party rapidly approaching on Saturday, we thought it would be good to share a few ideas to help with planning. This event promises to be a great experience for everyone to help and develop pride in their community. So here are a few things you will need and some stuff you may want to add.

People: Obviously you are going to need people, but you also need motivated leaders to keep everyone going. As the day warms up and people get dirty you are going to need leaders to keep people excited about what they are doing. It is also important that everyone has a clear vision of what projects you are working on. That way teams can divide up and more effectively tackle all the aspects.

Plan: You have your neighbors organized and ready to seize the day. Now you need an idea of what everyone wants to accomplish. Without out a plan, people will just go out and try to find something to do, but this is not the most economical way to spend the day. Without direction, it is easy for some volunteers to become disillusioned with the project and decide to call it a day. Everyone likes checking things off a list so maybe have a whiteboard where people can cross off tasks. This also allows everyone to see how much they have improved the neighborhood.

Safety: The great thing about events like this is that it brings people of all ages and abilities together. So it’s important to remember that some people manage heat and physical exertion differently. Make sure to have cold water on hand, encourage people to take breaks, and keep drinking water. It’s easy to forget to take care of yourself when you are working with an enthusiastic group. Also, make sure people are taking proper precautions. As you pick things up you can come into contact with hazardous materials, sharp objects, or wildlife. Make sure people are wearing gloves, appropriate attire, and footwear. Work together and continue to check on each other to make sure everyone has a safe experience.

Recognition: When it’s over, make sure you recognize everyone’s contributions. When people feel appreciated they take pride in what they do. This may help keep people motivated to continue maintaining an orderly neighborhood. Once people are invested you will likely see a lot less garbage to clean up next year so you can focus on new projects.

Optional After Party: A great way to continue the community building is to have a potluck cookout after you all are finished. Everyone can go home to wash up, then return to a designated spot where you can continue to get to know your neighbors and celebrate all that you have achieved.

We hope that everyone has a wonderful day and are excited to see how you beautified Durham. During and after the event please share your hard work on Social media and be sure to tag us in it. Here are some ideas you can use for inspiration:


We care about your neighborhood because we are a community. That’s why we cleaned our block! @DurhamBeautiful #cleanYOURblock #Durham


Our neighborhood is building community while cleaning up the block. This is how we celebrate where we live here in [Insert Community Name]. @KeepDurhamBeatuiful #cleanYOURblock #Durham #NorthCarolina #[InstertCommunityName]Neighborhood.


We had a great time cleaning up our community. This block is now clean! Thank you to all the volunteers. @DurhamBeautiful #cleanYOURblock


Look at how much better our block looks! This is how the community in [Insert Neighborhood Name] does it. Thank you to everyone who came out and helped. @KeepDurhamBeatiful #cleanYOURblock #Durham #NorthCarolina #[InsertCommunityName]Neighborhood