On a rainy Friday in early November, Emily LeMay sat behind the wheel of her county-issued SUV and looked at a pile of garbage waiting to be processed at the Pinellas County solid waste facility.
Yard waste, soiled towels, old toothbrushes and other separate household waste was mixed with household waste that had been taken to the facility to be burned and then packaged at the nearby landfill.
But there were also items that did not belong.
Plastic bottles that once held milk or laundry detergent. Dirty cans. Boxes.
âSo much cardboard,â LeMay said, eyes wide, a slight nod of his head.
LeMay, who coordinates recycling and outreach for the county’s solid waste department, said about a third of the waste the facility receives is items that could have been recycled.
As waste and consumption increase during the holiday season – Environmental Protection Agency believes that household waste is increasing by over 25% nationwide between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day – LeMay said it’s especially important to get into the habit of practicing proper disposal techniques.
âIf you’re already recycling, it’s time to review your local centre’s rules to make sure you know what they accept,â LeMay said.
What if you aren’t recycling already?
âNow is a great time to start,â said LeMay.
Here’s a quick reminder of what does – and not – go to the recycling bin and other resources available to help you minimize waste while ringing while on vacation around Tampa Bay.
“Recycling at will” does more harm than good
Recycling is important. But if you throw away items that aren’t factory accepted, it does more harm than good.
âPeople are well intentioned, they want to recycle as much as they can,â said Travis Barnes, who heads the program for Hillsborough County. âWhen there’s something in question, people often get it wrong, ‘Oh, they’re just going to find out at the factory, we’ll put it in there just in case. “”
Barnes called it ârecycling at will,â and he said it hurts the program.
Common culprits, he said, are things like plastic silverware and plates, bubble wrap, packaging materials, and styrofoam.
The worst are what he called “tanglers” – plastic bags, Christmas lights or anything that could get stuck in the rotating machinery that sorts recyclables at the plant.
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Barnes said the tanglers damage equipment and can shut down operations when stuck. It’s costly, and it’s dangerous for workers who have to climb onto equipment and manually cut through the materials that cause failure.
âWhat we tell people is when in doubt, just leave it out,â Barnes said.
Know your options
Most recycling centers are equipped to receive traditional materials: plastic bottles and containers that you can rinse and reuse at home, aluminum cans and plastic or glass jars, dry paper and flattened cardboard.
But Barnes said each recycling center is set up a little differently, and a quick Google search can give you a reminder of the rules for your specific processing center.
In Pinellas, LeMay said residents can rely on the “where is he going?” On the county website. When you enter the name of an item you are trying to dispose of, the system returns instructions on how to dispose of it.
The tool can be used to research anything from electronics to mattresses to nail polish. It even includes instructions for getting rid of a piano.
An aluminum pie plate? Put it in the trash.
A frying pan? Here is a list of scrap metal collection sites.
The newspaper you read? Place it in the recycling bin.
“People can search for any item they can think of and we’ll give them step-by-step instructions on how to dispose of it, whether it’s recycling or a specialized program, or whether it’s going just in the trash, âLeMay said. âKnowing your options is really important. “
Reduce and reuse
The best way to minimize your waste footprint is to simply reduce the amount of waste you create.
If you are shopping for Thanksgiving, bring reusable bags to the store and avoid using individual plastic bags when selecting. produce. Don’t buy more than you need, and when serving your feast, try using plates and trays that you can wash, rather than the ones you throw away.
âRecycling helps, but at the end of the day we want to create as little waste as possible,â said LeMay.
Stephanie Watson, who also runs recycling programs for Pinellas County, said efforts to reduce waste don’t have to stop at the dinner table.
National Retail Federation estimates show holiday sales could break records this year. But Watson wants to challenge residents to think outside the box – literally.
She said rather than buying new items from retailers, consider offering experiences this holiday season – think concert tickets, a special meal, or an annual park pass or a local museum.
And on the receiving side, if you’re happy to receive gift items from thrift or consignment stores, be sure to pass it on to your loved ones.
âSometimes there’s a stigma in buying things that have already been loved,â Watson said. âIt’s helpful if you let people know you’re open to lightly used gifts. “
If you have clothes, toys or household items that you no longer use, take them to a donation center or exchange them at a consignment store, rather than throwing them on the sidewalk, Watson said. Now is a good time to do the yearly wardrobe cleaning – what you no longer use might be exactly what someone else is looking for.
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Naughty list: Bubble wrap and plastic air cushions, plastic bags and sandwich bags, styrofoam, food, plastic silverware and used paper plates, yard waste, wires, cords, pipes and containers that are wet or contaminated with food.
Nice list: Flattened cardboard boxes, packaging materials only paper, glass (bottles and jars), plastic (bottles and jugs), cans, cartons.
To learn more about recycling in your area, visit:
Pinellas County: https://www.pinellascounty.org/solidwaste/recycle.htm
Pasco County: https://www.pascocountyfl.net/181/Recyclage
Hillsborough County: https://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/en/residents/property-owners-and-renters/trash-and-recycling/what-can-i-recycle