On recycling, when in doubt, throw it out | Editorial

It’s not “recycling” if items don’t get recycled, so be sure of what you’re putting in the curbside bin.
A Waste Management worker rips plastic bags out of a star screen. The facility halts eight times a day for scheduled detangling. [Tracee Stockwell | Times]
A Waste Management worker rips plastic bags out of a star screen. The facility halts eight times a day for scheduled detangling. [Tracee Stockwell | Times]
Published August 9

“When in doubt, throw it out” may not be the sexiest recycling slogan, but it’s the most practical one. Those curbside recycling bins in Tampa and St. Petersburg make it easier than ever for residents to recycle without a second thought. And that’s a problem. If residents don’t make sure they are putting only recyclables into the container, they risk making it just a feel-good garbage can.

Contaminating the bin with items that aren’t recyclable delays the process at the plant or, worse, can cause the whole batch to be rejected as the Tampa Bay Times’ Gabrielle Calise reports after touring the Waste Management recovery facility in Ybor City, which is shared by Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. So don’t indulge in “wish recycling” and incorrectly assume that recyclers will figure out how to do something with that old plastic and metal widget or toy or whatever you put in the bin. The recycling market is tougher than it was, and the standards for contamination have risen. It’s better to recycle only items you’re certain can be recycled. “Reduce, reuse, recycle” still makes sense, but add to that, “Be sure.”

Rinse out steel and aluminum cans, and plastic water bottles. Don’t bag anything. If it’s smaller than a hockey puck, throw it out. Same with shredded or wet or oily paper. Don’t put into the bin “tanglers,” plastic bags and other things that can gum up the machines, although Publix and some other retailers accept newspaper bags and polystyrene foam containers. Break down cardboard boxes and pull off the tape.

It’s not “recycling” if the items don’t get recycled.

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