Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Turns out recycling happens

Call me cynical. But I wasn't sure I fully trusted that city recycling truck.

Sure, as a Tampa resident, I happily replaced my old-school curbside recycling bin this year with a tall, green plastic can on wheels as part of a new automated system. This baby maneuvers on a dime and has a lid to boot. What's not to like?

People who live in Hillsborough County are getting similarly wheeled bins for their own expanded recycling program that kicks off next week. I tell my county neighbors it will rock their world, garbagewise — no more struggling to carry a bin to the curb, no more newspapers blowing down the street or soaked with rain, no more plastic bottles bouncing out. St. Pete is talking citywide curbside recycling again, or still. All good.

But weekly as I watched my can dumped into that big blue truck — all of it going to one place, not sorted by plastic here and glass there but in a "single stream," as they call it — I would think:

Really? So how exactly do my soda cans get separated from my pizza boxes and pickle jars? Not that I thought there was some conspiracy in which they dumped everything some secret place, but … how?

So I did what anyone would do: I went to visit the Waste Management facility where the city's recycling (allegedly) went.

Turns out everyone from Sierra Clubbers to Scouts to high-schoolers have made trips to see the $26 million warehouse facility in an industrial patch east of Ybor City. Turns out it's pretty amazing — Bob the Builder meets Legoland, except a little smellier. (It is garbage, even if it's reusable garbage.)

Those trucks that prowl neighborhoods come rumbling in and dump their loads. The stuff is taken to a fascinating system of more than 5,000 feet of conveyor belt, pushed up three stories high and then rolled along for sorting. It goes past overhead vacuums that suck up plastic bags and across sprocketlike rollers that send cardboard dancing off. Newspaper gets screened out and heavier stuff falls through gaps.

Optical sorting machines can be programmed to recognize different materials to get it sorted with similar stuff. Aluminum drink cans get ejected off the sorting line using a rare-earth magnet. And hard-hatted, heavily gloved humans use old fashioned visuals to pick through recycling as it passes by.

So that milk jug a city dweller throws in the can at the curb winds up in a massive 1,500-pound cube of similar jugs waiting to be shipped off to become windbreakers or a baby toy. Sunday's tailgate beer cans are by week's end bound for a place where they will become usable cans all over again. About 11 percent of what comes in ends up in a landfill.

"I don't let much go to waste," district plant manager Scotte Kavanaugh says as we stand there surveying what looks like mountains of a city's garbage ready to be reused.

City recycling participation has nearly doubled to more than 60 percent since the new cans started rolling out, so I'm not the only one convinced. But cynicism about how this actually happens apparently wasn't mine alone, either. "We get that question all the time," says Tampa recycling coordinator Lori Van Bemden.

But seeing all that well-meant garbage bound for a better place can make you a believer — trust me.

Turns out recycling happens 09/24/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 8:27pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Dog dies in hot car while owner cleans Florida condos

    Public Safety

    PANAMA CITY BEACH — Authorities say a 2-year-old Chihuahua died in a hot car while its owner was cleaning condominiums in Florida.

  2. Recipe for Nutty Quinoa Carbonara

    Cooking

    If you've never made carbonara, consider adding it to your weekday dinner lineup. It is a traditional Italian pasta dish in which eggs are mixed with cheese and then swirled into cooked pasta just before serving. The result is a luscious bowl of food you won't believe contains so few ingredients. This recipe swaps …

    Quinoa Carbonara. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times food editor.
  3. Jared Kushner says he has 'nothing to hide' on Russia (w/video)

    National

    WASHINGTON — Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner is denying that President Donald Trump's campaign colluded with Russia, saying in a statement ahead of congressional interviews that he has "nothing to hide."

    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner listens during the "American Leadership in Emerging Technology" event with President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House in Washington on June 22, 2017. [Associated Press]
  4. Forecast: Less stormy weather to start week in Tampa Bay before chances ramp back up

    Weather

    After some stormy mornings throughout the weekend across Tampa Bay, Monday kicks off pretty quietly with a cloudy, yet mainly dry start.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast. [WTSP]
  5. Florida education news: #HB7069, 'Robin Hood' funding, the search for teachers and more

    Blogs

    WHAT NEXT? Every year, new state laws hit the books that have to be implemented once they take effect. But House Bill …

    Over 600 new Hillsborough County teachers listen to superintendent Jeff Eakins during an orientation in July 2016.