Waste experts doubt counties can meet recycling target of 75 percent

Legislators will review the state DEP's proposals and decide which to enact.

Published: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 11, 2010 at 11:12 p.m.

OCALA - The Florida Department of Environmental Protection released a report last week as to how Florida counties could recycle 75 percent of their waste by 2020, a goal set by Florida's Energy, Climate Change and the Economic Security Act of 2008.

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Marion County resident Sam Martian carries recyclable items to their bins at the Canal Recycling Center in Ocala on Monday.

Doug Engle/Staff photographer

The Florida Legislature required FDEP to develop a program by this month explaining how to achieve the recycling goal. Florida lawmakers will review the FDEP recommendations this year and decide which to enact.

Many area waste experts say that, short of a social overhaul as to how waste is disposed, achieving the 75 percent goal would be difficult at best.

"I don't know anyone that's reaching that level," said Glenn Kerns, Ocala's director of Public Works.

Kerns said that even if Ocala imposed recycling and sorting rules on residents, the city would obtain "18 percent [recycling] if we were lucky. That would be good."

Ken Whitehead, director of Marion County's solid waste department, said the only way to reach the 75 percent goal without overhauling the way residents live and generate waste is if the FDEP broadens its definition of recycling.

Whitehead also doesn't hold out much hope of achieving the 75 percent goal by utilizing curbside recycling service, something that's available to Alachua County's waste pickup customers but not in Marion County.

Alachua County, including Gainesville, had a 2009 recycling rate of 32 percent.

Joshua Robinson, of Alachua and Gainesville's waste hauler Emerald Waste Services, agreed with Whitehead that to meet the recycling goal FDEP would have to expand what it meant by recyclable materials.

Robinson said he would want the FDEP to allow such things as food waste converted to fertilizer to be counted as recycled materials.

In addition, Robinson wants FDEP to give communities credit for reducing their waste production and that also should be one of the state's goals.

"Because the rate which we're filling landfills is not sustainable," he said, people are going to have to change the way they think.

At least one community has changed its approach to waste generation by limiting the amount of waste residents leave on their curbs for pickup, Robinson said. Additional waste beyond that amount has to be placed in designated bags, each costing $2.

Mary Jean Yon, FDEP's director of the division of waste management, said the 75 percent goal was achievable using her agency's recommendations.

"I think that because we have 10 years, it's achievable," Yon said. "One or two years is too much."

Currently, 60 percent of Florida's waste goes to landfills, Yon said.

"It's going to take a different way of looking at things," she said. "It's not going to be easy."

Some of the FDEP's recommendations include:

Require state agencies to meet the 75 percent goal.

Apply the 75 percent goal to counties with populations greater than 100,000 people and cities with populations greater than 50,000.

Require commercial recycling in large counties and cities to include multi-family residential units such as apartments and condominiums, as well as institutional facilities such as schools and hospitals.

Direct school districts to implement recycling programs.

Create recycling grants or loan programs to help local governments reach a 75 percent recycling goal.

Require that construction and demolition debris disposal facilities be modified to include a materials recovery facility that separates recyclable materials instead of allowing it to go to landfills.

Create a recycling business assistance center to promote markets for the entire spectrum of recyclable municipal solid waste materials, organic and inorganic.

But Sally Palmi, waste alternative manager for Alachua County Office of Waste Collection, said FDEP's goals were achievable given help from government in creating recyclable markets.

Palmi said Alachua County recently did a study estimating "what we can reasonably pull out of the waste stream," and predicts that 65 percent is an achievable goal.

"The other 10 percent, we don't know," she said, noting a market will have to be developed for the salvaged materials. "It's going to be a tough challenge," she said, "but it's certainly worth working toward."

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