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Recycling in Knoxville | Where does it end up, how does it get there and what can be collected?

Knoxville has been recycling since the 80's, and an increasing number of residents are choosing to reduce, reuse and recycle every year.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Knoxville has been using recycling convenience centers since the 80's, and introduced the curbside recycling program for homeowners almost a decade ago.

In 2018, the City of Knoxville recycled 7,230 tons from convenience centers and the curbside pickup service.

Those recycling numbers are important for multiple reasons, Patience Melnik, the Solid Waste Manager for the City of Knoxville, explained.

"One, it creates jobs," she explained. "Two, it keeps our landfill from filling up quite as quickly, and three, it prevents greenhouse gases."

Melnik says the breakdown of the thousands of tons recycled last year looked like this: 2,300 tons of recycling came from the city's five recycling centers, and 4,930 tons were from the curbside pickup program.

"It's just important for us," Melnik noted. "Just like other cities, we do our part to keep our community greener."


So what exactly happens once you drop that plastic bottle or can into the recycling bin?

"It would go to the local [Materials Recovery Facility]," Melnik explained. Once there, "it would go through the sorting line, which is comprised of people as well as machines."

Melnik says Knoxville is unique because it keeps the recyclables local.

"Unlike other American cities where they have been selling to China, we have local markets here," Melnik noted. "We have a lot of industries that need those materials here in the Southeast."

After the materials are sorted and baled, Melnik says each type of recyclable is sold to a separate place.

Plastic is sold to Mohawk Carpet in Northern Georgia, aluminum cans go to Arconic in Alcoa, steel goes to Gerdau AmeriSteel in Knoxville, and the cardboard and paper is used to make packaging materials at West Rock.

With every visit to one of Knoxville or Knox County's recycling centers, or with every fill up of your recycling bin, you are contributing to the local economy and making Knoxville a greener place.

RELATED: How to apply for a recycling bin in Knoxville

"So the outlook is bright for our community," Melnik urged.


According to the website, the City of Knoxville's five recycling convenience centers are located at:

NORTH: Behind shopping center at I-640 Plaza - 4440 Western Avenue
SOUTHGoodwill at W. Moody Ave. - 225 W. Moody Ave.
EASTGoodwill at Chilhowee Park - 210 Alice St.
WESTGoodwill at Cedar Bluff - 341 Parkvillage Rd.
DOWNTOWN: Downtown Recycling Center - 227 Willow Ave.

There are other locations throughout the county and on UT's campus.

Anyone who lives in Knox County can use the Knoxville recycling centers and vice versa. The UT center is open to the public.


According to the City of Knoxville website, there are certain guidelines you must follow if you choose to use the recycling centers provided by the city.


Plastic Recycling Number

  • Plastics: containers #1-7 (#6 Styrofoam not accepted), cups, bottles, milk/juice/detergent jugs, & caps (NO plastic bags)
  • Metals: aluminum, steel & tin cans
  • Mixed Paper - any type of material that is 100 percent paper including phone books, hard-bound books, catalogs, magazines,white and colored ledger paper, white and colored note pad paper and stationary, copy paper, NRC forms, sticky notes, envelopes with or without plastic windows, fax paper, manila folders, hanging folders (remove metal bands), paperboard such as toilet paper/paper towel tubes, cereal boxes, tissue boxes, shredded paper (enclosed in paper bags), and paper bags.    
    • Not necessary to remove labels, staples, tape, or the plastic windows from envelopes    
  • Clear Glass
  • Brown Glass 
  • Green Glass 
  • Cardboard (flattened)
  • Newspaper (including inserts) 
  • Reusable Household Goods      
    • Can only be donated when Goodwill attendant is on site

Please rinse out all containers. NO plastic bags- all recyclables should be loose in the bins- not bagged.


  •  Plastic bags and other plastic films    
    • Please consider taking empty plastic bags back to a local grocery or hardware store for recycling. We highly recommend using reusable bags.
  • Batteries    
    • Lead Acid, lithium, and rechargeable (no alkaline) batteries may be brought to the Solid Waste Management Facility for recycling      
    • Please also see battery recycling options at both the County and UT recycling drop-off centers- links above.
  • Styrofoam
  • Aluminum foil/foil pans or pie plates
  • Bags/wrappers with silver inner linings (chips, candy, etc.)
  • Aerosol cans/paint cans
  • Pet food bags
  • Cords & garden hoses
  • Light bulbs/holiday lights
  • Waxy coated containers (milk/juice/ice cream cartons)  
  • Window glass, broken windshields
  • Any type of porcelain or pottery material such as plates or pots. 
  • Plastic containers that hold hazardous waste such as pesticides/herbicides, motor oil and antifreeze bottles
  • Carbon paper (receipts, etc.)
  • Scrap metal (lawn mower blades, brake drums, etc)    
    • Please consider bringing to a local scrap metal recycler 
  • No Medical Waste. Insulin Sharps or Sharps containers are NOT accepted either inside plastic bottles or by themselves. These items can be disposed of in your household trash inside plastic bottles or through a proper disposal management company. 

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