Recycling the right way

Published on: February 21, 2019

It’s important to know what you can and cannot recycle in your blue collection cart. This photo shows how contaminants tangle and clog the county’s sorting machines, causing processing delays and added expense. Once these type of items are removed, they must be sent to the county landfill.

If you recycle, there’s a right way to do it

Hillsborough County’s curbside pickup of recyclable items in rolling blue carts began in Oct. 2013, and currently six in 10 households participate on a regular basis. County residents place generally 62,000 tons of recyclable items in these carts annually to be taken to a transfer station in Tampa, and then to a materials recovery facility in St. Petersburg, where they are sorted and later sent to domestic and overseas markets for repurposing.
While the county is pleased with these numbers, some residents are “wish-cycling” nonrecyclable things in their carts, causing delays in processing and added handling expense.
“Some residents assume any type of plastic, metal glass and other materials like aluminum are recyclable,” said Travis Barnes, recycling coordinator for the county’s public utilities department. “We get an abundance of unrecoverable materials and excessively dirty that have to be extracted and sent to the landfill at an additional cost.”
This is called contamination. Top contaminants are food and liquids, “tanglers” that get stuck in sorting equipment, plastic bags, wraps, Styrofoam, PVC and very large plastic items.
These tanglers can endanger staff who sort or remove them, damage equipment, reduce the number of quality recyclable items and significantly increase processing costs.
“We like to say, ‘When in doubt, throw it out!”’ Barnes said.
Here are some guidelines to use when recycling:


• Clean, empty plastic bottles, jugs and containers (plastic caps should be left on the bottles.)
• Clean, empty aluminum cans, large aluminum food trays and pie tins free of food residue
• Clean, empty glass bottles and jars (Metal and plastic lids should be removed from the jars and can be recycled separately.)
• Dry paper, envelopes, newspaper and junk mail
• Clean, empty milk, juice and broth boxes or cartons
• Dry, flattened cardboard cut down or folded to fit inside the cart
• Clean, dry paperboard boxes
• Clean steel and tin metal cans, containers


• Plastic bags, loose or otherwise, plastic wrap and film (Never place recyclable items inside plastic bags.)
• Food waste of any type
• “Tanglers,” i.e. cords, wires, garden hoses, rope, twine, clothing
• Styrofoam or polystyrene foam
• Pizza boxes
• Electronics, light bulbs, batteries
• Clothes hangers
• Diapers
• Rubber
• Soiled paper items
• Household hazardous waste
• Sharps (needles and syringes), medications
• Cooking oils and grease
• Construction, demolition debris
• Ceramics, cutlery, cooking and dining ware
• Construction, demolition debris
• Pressurized tanks
• Yard waste
• Plastic plants
As a reminder: Blue carts should be filled only with loose, clean and empty recyclable items, and everything must fit inside them. On collection day, they must be curbside by 6 a.m.
Blue and gray (garbage) carts need to be three feet apart and placed away from anything that will obstruct pickup. The wheels of both carts should face inward.
For more detailed information on what you can or cannot recycle, visit