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What exactly goes into the recycling bin and what doesn't?

What exactly goes into the recycling bin and what doesn't?
What exactly goes into the recycling bin and what doesn't? 04:40

PEABODY - About one-third of Americans recycle, but despite our best intentions we recycle things that hurt the cause.

So, do we really know what goes in the recycling bin?

To find out, we went to Green Works, a recycling process facility in Peabody. They have a building called the "materials recovery facility," which is "the place where the stuff you throw in the recycling bin ends up."

"It's just a continuous stream of material that people put into the bin," said Gretchen Carey, the sustainability manager at Republic Services, the company that owns the facility.

The hodgepodge of paper, plastic and poor decisions embark on a journey, climbing the conveyor belts knowing that only the best will make it here, where dreams of a second life come true.

"Paper becomes paper. Cardboard into cardboard and plastic into polyester fibers that make clothing," she told WBZ.

While workers snatch all the cardboard they can find, mega magnets grab cans.

But, a lot of what comes in here cannot be recycled, like fancy feathered boas, coat hangers, books and children's toys. Donate those items.

"We see things like bowling balls and boots," Carey said. "Bowling balls are a common one, I don't know why. Or barbells. People think because it's made of metal that we want it. What we really want are cans."

WBZ-TV graphic CBS Boston

So cans, all containers with a lid and, if you can rip it, you can recycle it. Even greasy pizza boxes.

"Before 2018 you could not and now it has come into the bin. So, we're happy to take your cardboard box for your pizza. We do not want the pizza, we don't want the paper and we don't want the Barbie table that came with it," Carey told WBZ. 

But a lot of what comes in will sadly end up in a landfill. That's costly to the environment and perhaps to your town. If you put too much junk in your recycling bin, your town, which pays to recycle, can be hit with surcharges.

But it's hard to know what's what.

"No lids, no straws, no coffee cups, please," Carey said.

No pieces of wood, no hangers or plastic bags. And no plastic wrap. "It's the bane of our existence," said Carey. 

Nothing thin and plastic.

They are all called tanglers. If workers don't pick out every piece they'll get stuck in the machinery and shut down operations.

WBZ-TV graphic. CBS Boston

For more on what you can and can't recycle, click here.

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