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. Kidpreneurs — and adults — capitalize on gooey, squishy Slime craze

    Retail

    First it was Play-Doh. Then Gak. There have been dozens of variations for sale of the oozy, gooey, squishable, stretchable kids' toy through the generations.

    Aletheia Venator and Berlyn Perdomo demonstrate the stretchiness of their slime. - Berlyn Perdomo and her friend, Aletheia Venator, both 13, make and sell slime which can be seen on their instagram site @the.real.slimeshadyy [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  2. After last year's drug-related deaths, Tampa's Sunset Music Festival says it's stepping up safety, security

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Alex Haynes worked three jobs. He had a fiance and an infant son. He owned his own home in Melbourne. Last summer, the 22-year-old attended the Sunset Musical Festival at Raymond James Stadium.

    He left in an ambulance.

    Last year’s Sunset Music Festival was marked by dozens of medical emergencies.
  3. What you need to know for Friday, May 26

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Read this morning why Florida's most prized sweet corn is nearly extinct. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  4. The last farmer of Florida's prized Zellwood corn is thinking of packing it in

    Consumer

    MOUNT DORA — Hank Scott steps out of his pickup between the long rows and snaps off an ear that grows about bellybutton-high on the forehead-high stalks.

    Hank Scott, co-owner of Long and Scott Farms, shucks an ear of corn on the farm in Mount Dora, Fla., on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. The farm specializes in Scott's Zellwood Triple-Sweet Gourmet Corn. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  5. Trump's rock-solid support shows in Pennsylvania: 'Why can't we be friends with Russia'

    National

    HAZLETON, Pa. — To many here, the fires in Washington are distant and unimportant, a confusing jangle of news about Russia whipped up by forces set on ruining President Donald Trump.

    A street in downtown Hazleton, Pa. (Alex Leary  |  Times)