OBERLIN, Ohio — We are a nation with no shortage of recycling bins. Just a plastic bottle’s toss away in most homes in and offices. So why do we miss the mark so often on what we can and cannot recycle?

We turned to some experts for help.

Republic Services offers open houses from time to time to help educate the public on how recycling works and what they accept. They offered up a tour to Channel 3 and we gladly accepted.

Operations Manager Dan Schoewe served as our guide.

 “We do 400 tons a day,” Schoewe told us as we got the lowdown on the process at Republic’s Oberlin facility.

A wheel loader “fluffs up” the material so employees can see what’s in it before it goes into the recycling systems.

“Believe it or not, we’ve gotten guns, ammunition, filled propane tanks and gas cans with gasoline still inside,” Schoewe said.

RELATED: Rust Belt Riders works with local businesses to 'feed people, not landfills'

Recycling by nature can be a violent process with all the machinery involved. Dangerous materials can start fires, cause explosions, threatening worker safety and potentially damaging equipment.

STEP ONE: KNOW WHAT TO THROW 

Pre-sort is the area where employees start weeding out materials that can’t be recycled. Dangerous items are rare, but on a daily basis, they see items that have no business ending up in your recycling bin. Items like clothing, car parts, scrapped steel and even the occasional bowling ball. Plastic grocery bags, clear plastic bags, Styrofoam and diapers are too common. 

“Wishful Recyclers” is the name given to those who aren’t sure if an item can be recycled, but toss it in anyway.

A third of everything that comes to the Oberlin facility can’t be recycled and heads to the landfill.

“What people need to know is what to throw. And what I mean by that is they need to know what’s actually in your provider’s recycling program,” Schoewe explained.

Republic has tried to make it as customer friendly as possible. Recyclingsimplied.com is their website dedicated to guesswork out of recycling.

NOT ALL RECYCLING PROGRAMS ARE CREATED EQUAL

Some providers take diapers. Republic does not. Another provider may take recyclables with symbols 1-7, another may only take 3-7. You need to do a little homework to figure that out. We’ve created links to recycling guides for area providers below.

BIGGEST OFFENDERS: STYROFOAM AND PLASTIC GROCERY BAGS 

“For every bag that comes down the line we do a negative sort. Everything that should be on that line we have to pull off. It becomes a contaminant in our mixed paper. The plastic, it flows off through that mixed paper with that process. It can contaminate other things around it,” Schoewe said.

But knowing what to throw is only half the battle. Throwing it in the right condition is just as important.

RELATED: Akron placing 'Oops' tags on recycling bins to help residents 'Recycle Right'

STEP TWO: EMPTY, CLEAN AND DRY 

You’ve taken the step to finding out exactly what your provider can and can’t take. Don’t ruin it by not following this simple rule. Make sure that items are empty, clean and dry before tossing them in the bin. 

Ketchup bottles free of ketchup. No plastic soda bottles with liquid still inside. And when it comes to those pizza boxes, yes, you can recycle them, as long as they don’t have lots of grease or pizza remnants stuck to the cardboard. If the box comes with a paper liner, or plastic top separating pizza toppings from cardboard, toss those in the garbage.

We asked Schoewe want happens when someone throws out a jar or container that still has food or liquid in it. 

“Since our trucks are compacting units, it can smash those items together and they can get out and contaminate everything around it. We want empty, clean and dry,” he emphasized.

Recycling the right way is an investment. It does take a little more of your time, but the rewards can last for years to come.

Republic Services: www.recyclingsimplified.com

Kimble Recycling Guide www.kimblecompanies/what-we-recycle

Waste Management www.wm.com/thinkgreen/what-can-i-recycle.jsp

RELATED: Family-owned company in Elyria moves toward zero waste