Gulfportians have an excellent recycling rate: 95%.
A 2019 National Geographic article states 91% of plastics worldwide isn’t recycled, accounting for tremendous amounts of waste generated by modern society, We see horrors such as wildlife dying from eating plastic, and The Great Pacific Garbage Patch floating in the Pacific Ocean between Hawai’i and California that covers an estimated 1.6 million square kilometers—roughly three times the size of France. And all that waste was thoughtlessly thrown away.
In November, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Florida Recycling Partnership celebrated Florida Recycles Week, recognizing some “Heroes,” such as Northrup Grumman. The corporation recycles packing materials and other manufacturing goods …all well and good for giant corporations. DEP Deputy Secretary John Truitt also acknowledged Pinellas County for achieving the 75% recycling goal in 2020, with 78%, along with Charlotte (78%) and Lee (74%}.
But what advice do the experts have for average folks to help this effort? Let’s see.
It’s Tricky Business
Skeptics and dedicated recyclers have heated debates on social media about recycling: Is it worth the trouble? Naysayers holler there’s no point because it all goes to the dump, true believers maintain recycling works when done properly, according to the rules. Yes, there are rules.
So, here’s the latest info from the local sanitation experts in Gulfport and St. Petersburg, where optional curbside recycling is available to households for about $3 monthly.
Gulfport is Unique
In Gulfport, recycling is done well, and 70% of residents participate in the program, according to Tom Nicholls, the city’s public works director.
“We have a unique program here in Gulfport,” said Nicholls. “We require participants to separate their recyclables into two containers…a blue one for metal and plastic, and green for paper and cardboard. Because of this separation, Gulfport has the lowest contamination rate (of recyclables) in the county,” he said. But no plastic bags…they go straight to the landfill.”
Nicholls explained the flimsy bags often catch in sorting equipment, endangering workers.
“They’re recycled separately at grocery stores,” he said.
“We can’t accept glass because it breaks and gets into things, and we can’t accept paper food containers,“ he said.” When someone puts glass with plastic, the workers will tag the box with a note for the resident explaining what’s wrong,” he said. ”It doesn’t take much to contaminate recyclables, so don’t put your greasy pizza boxes with the cardboard because they’ll go straight to the waste-to-energy [facility].“
Waste Management (the recycling company Gulfport contracts with) takes everything, and puts the recycling through their sophisticated sorting system. They sell metals and other products for the best price, while the refuse goes to the dump.
“There’s a lot of ‘wish recycling’ he said, where folks put things in the bin that we can’t take,” said Nicholls. ”We want to educate folks, and most are understanding.”
According to Nicholls, recycling was profitable when China was accepting recycled materials, but now costs to recycle have doubled.
“At one time recycling paid for itself, so we hope the market turns around again,” he said, noting that Gulfport passed a recycling ordinance in July 1995.
“Now cities make no money, he said. “We used to pay $60 per ton, but now it’s up to $120 per ton. It all depends on the market.”
St. Pete’s Big Blue Bins
In St. Petersburg Recycling Manager Joe Valente said the city usually has about 74,000 big blue recycling bins in use at a time.
“We use 95 gallon containers for curbside recycling,” said Valente. “We collect about 15 thousand tons a year which is about 50 tons daily.”
That’s a lot of recycling all in one bin…and it has to be sorted. Unlike Gulfport’s pre-sorted recyclables, St. Pete’s blue bins go directly to the recycler, where it’s sorted out, both mechanically and by hand.
“Regular garbage goes to the Pinellas County solid waste facility mid-county, where it’s incinerated in the waste-to-energy program,” said Valente.
“We try to get people to our website,” he said, referring to the city’s website with all the “do’s and don’ts” of recycling.
“It’s an ongoing battle,” said Valente, “but we work hard to reduce contamination in recycling.”
It’s Your Decision
Some critics of recycling assert that the ability to put something in a recycling bin gives Americans the freedom to buy without consequences, making purchases a little more guilt-free. For example, 95% of what Gulfportians puts into the recycling bins makes it to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), but that’s not the whole story. From that MRF, manufacturers must buy the materials to make into recycled goods; if, after a period of time, no one buys the recyclables, they get shipped back to the county’s waste-to-energy facility.
Some Recycling Resources:
Gulfportians, get the skinny on your recycling program.
St. Pete, here’s more info on your recycling program.
More recycling info at How2Recycle.