What do we do with 6 billion tons of plastic waste?

Solutions journalism aims to find real answers to today’s problems

ORLANDO, Fla. – Plastic can be found in almost every aspect of our lives — in our cars, our clothes, coffee cups and even in some of the food we eat.

We could stop producing and consuming plastic right now, but we’d still have tons and tons of waste to deal with.

Some of it ends up at recycling centers where piles of paper, metal and plastic get sorted and processed to eventually produce new usable materials.

The problem is not everything can be recycled.

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What do all those numbers on containers mean and how do you know if what you’re putting in the bin is actually being recycled?

Solutionaries Correspondent Jenna Zibton found answers.

Are you part of the solution or the problem?

Let’s take a look at recycling rules in Central Florida.

Most counties have similar curbside recycling rules that dictate what can and cannot be placed inside your bin. Check yours below.

In Orange County, the recycling program accepts the following in your roll cart:

  • PLASTIC - Bottles, jugs, and tubs labeled #1 - #5
  • METAL CANS - Tin, aluminum and steel
  • GLASS - Bottles and jars
  • CARDBOARD - Flattened corrugated boxes
  • PAPER - Newspapers and advertisements, paper bags, junk mail, magazines and catalogs, office/note paper, phone books, cereal/shoe/drink boxes, milk/juice cartons

Notice what’s NOT included? Plastic grocery bags.

That means all recycling must be clean and loose. If recyclables are mixed in with flexible plastic bags or mail packaging, the entire receptacle may be sent to the landfill.

When plastic bags end up in recycling facilities and make it past sorters, they often become tangled in the machinery, which can stop the sorting process and cause recyclables to have to be landfilled.

The solution? Dump those clean recyclables straight into your curbside roll cart.

The city of Orlando has a nifty guide here.

Here are more guides for residents in Seminole County, Brevard County, Volusia County, Osceola County, Lake County, Polk County and Sumter County.

If you live in a municipality, check your city’s website for specific recycling rules.

Drop-off your growing stash

So, if plastic grocery bags don’t belong in your curbside bin, what should you do with that giant collection in your cupboard?

One option: take it to your local Publix or Target store.

Most of these stores have bins near the entrance for certain clean flexible plastic bags.

Recycling bins outside of a Publix store in Cocoa, FL. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

Beach cleaning robot

Florida’s efforts to keep beaches clean and save lives in the ocean are taking a high-tech turn with the introduction of a cleaning robot.

BeBot is the first robot of its kind in the world, and he hopes it will make cleaning the beach more efficient.

Solutionaries Correspondent Erik Sandoval went to the Space Coast to see the sand sweeper in action.

Click here to read more about how BeBot is getting results.

Pollution-fighting technology

A young inventor is on a mission to take tons of plastic out of the world’s rivers.

Interceptor 007 is a not-so-secret agent of trash collection at the mouth of a Los Angeles waterway.

Watch CBS’s interview with the founder of The Ocean Cleanup which aims to collect 90% of floating plastic pollution below.

While quick fixes like The Ocean cleanup Project seem appealing on the surface, some environmental advocates said technology like this only distracts from the real problem: the endless production and consumption of single-use plastics.

So what can we do?

We can:

  • Stop buying plastic forks and knives
  • Skip the straw
  • Swap zip-lock bags for glass containers

These are all small choices that can make a difference on a large scale.

But let’s be real, avoiding plastic altogether is nearly impossible.

That’s why we’re focusing on what we should do with the plastic we’ve already created and wasted.

Often the best choice is reusing those plastic bags and containers.

A group of women in South Florida has put ingenuity and compassion behind an effort to clean the streets while helping the homeless.

Read more about the women’s efforts here.

Watch the latest episode of Solutionaries at the top of this article, on News 6+ for your smart TV (Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Google TV), on the Solutionaries YouTube channel, and every Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. on News 6.

About the Author:

Katrina Scales is a producer for the News 6+ Takeover at 3:30 p.m. She also writes and voices the podcast Your Florida Daily. Katrina was born and raised in Brevard County and started her journalism career in radio before joining News 6 in June 2021.