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How to tell the difference between garbage and recycling (w/video)

Published Dec. 28, 2017

Before the holidays, I started thinking about plastic.

And cardboard.

And all that wrapping paper.

It seemed like a good time to revisit an important topic — recycling.

I thought I knew it all, since I'm so committed to it that I fish things out of the trash all the time. Turns out I was wrong.

Did you know that 76 percent of your garbage can be recycled? But too many people engage in "wishful recycling," putting any type of plastic or glass into curbside bins.

Here's what they're looking for at the Pinellas County Solid Waste facility on 28th Street — food and beverage containers (milk, juice box and chicken broth cartons); cans (soup, pet food, veggies); plastic jugs (milk, water, juice); paper products (newspaper, envelopes and other mail, cereal and tissue boxes, toilet and paper rolls, wrapping paper and cards); and cardboard (think Amazon).

All those products should be clean and dry and put into the bin separately to make it through machines that sort them and prepare them for the market. Those who buy recycled materials won't pay for contaminated loads. In other words, don't drop a half-empty peanut butter jar into a recycling bin.

The folks at the county "dump" help with lots of other disposables, too.

Residents can drop off, at no charge, items for the Household, Electronics and Chemical Collection Center. There's also a free Swap Shop, where you can grab something someone else threw out.

Bring in tree branches, leaves, brush and grass clippings, and the facility will turn it into mulch, again without a fee.

The solid waste department also runs an artificial reef program, with 43 inshore and offshore reefs built from discarded items such as concrete pipes or steel beams carefully placed on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

In addition, garbage is used as fuel in the county facility's power plant. This "waste-to-energy" process generates enough electricity to power 45,000 homes a day. Stormwater is collected on the 703 acres and used to cool the turbines in the energy process. Metals recovered from the ash are later recycled, and what's left is used as landfill cover. Trash volume is reduced by 90 percent when burned.

"Our message here is you reduce, reuse, recycle, and then we recover," said Sara Herzig, program assistant at the 28th Street facility. "So here at Solid Waste, we try to support a lot of recycling and reduction programs. And then the waste that's left over afterwards is what we want to take here and properly manage."

The proceeds from the operation help sustain it, so the facility receives no government funding. And the work goes on 24 hours a day.


Do's and don'ts in your curbside container:

• Place items separately, never in plastic bags. They get stuck in the sorting machinery.

• Keep lids on containers.

• No pizza boxes, because items must be clean.

• No straws.

• No Christmas lights or ribbon, rope and hoses, because they can get tangled in the machinery.

• No paper or cards with foil or glitter.

• No glass cups, mirrors or serving ware.

• When in doubt, throw it out.

Recycling other items:

• Grocery stores accept paper and plastic grocery bags, paper towel plastic wrapping and clean take-out styrofoam containers and egg cartons.

• Home improvement stores take florescent light bulbs.

• Police stations accept medications.