What can and can't be recycled

- Every day, hundreds of tons of recycled material are sorted by hand at the Waste Management recycling facility in Tampa. But not everything that ends up there is recyclable.

About 30 percent of the materials that arrive at the facility can't be recycled. They're called contaminants -- items like hoses, pins, wires, metal rods, even a toilet seat -- can’t be recycled.

Employees try to grab them off the conveyor belts before they gum up the works or, even worse, start the kind of fire that set a facility ablaze in March.

“We don’t know for sure the cause, but most likely it was a contamination issue -- non-recyclable materials coming into our facility and sparking a fire in the paper and cardboard,” said Dawn McCormick, director of communications for Waste Management Inc. of Florida.

A machine called the Star Screen sorts the cardboard and paper from the aluminum and plastic. But when people throw contaminants in their recycling bins, like plastic bags, it could jam up the system.

To keep things moving, employees have to cut out items that get tangled in the gears, multiple times a day. McCormick says that's why it's important for residential customers to know what's recyclable and what isn't.

“Paper and cardboard, plastic bottles and jugs, aluminum and cans,” she said. “That’s it.”

And absolutely no plastic bags.

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