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Florida Recycling Targets in Effect


Not long ago, Florida lawmakers adopted some ambitious recycling goals for the state.  Tom Flanigan reports those targets are now kicking in and the scramble is on to meet those expectations.

Just ten years ago, nearly one out of every three tons of Florida waste was diverted into recycling programs.  But today that figure has dropped to about one out of every five tons.  So last year the Florida Legislature set a goal of recycling 75-percent of the state’s waste by the year 2020.   Ron Greenstein, a former state lawmaker who now heads Broward County’s Resource Recovery Board, admits that’s a lofty objective.

“Broward County currently is between 25 and 30-percent recycling.  One of the things we are doing right now is we built a framework over the next twenty years to get to 75-percent.

Greenstein was among dozens of other experts and advocates in Tallahassee for a half-day long meeting on how to get more residents, businesses and even government agencies on board the recycling train.  Greenstein advises making the process easier for the customer, such as doing away with the current need for them to separate paper from plastic bottles and metal cans.  Instead, they just toss everything into one bin; what’s called “single stream recycling”.

“This is one machine, one truck, so when it comes in, it’s done in  more sophisticated recycling machinery that’s better and has less contamination, so it increases the value plus the amount you have without breakage, so that’s a big thing.”

While that might be a hot issue for large urban counties, small rural counties like Taylor in North Florida don’t even have a single staff person dedicated to a recycling program.

“We do many things.  Mostly I do mosquito control, but the director of my department is head of solid waste, recycling, household hazardous waste, mosquito control and animal control.”

During the meeting, Taylor County’s Cheryl White had her mosquito control hat on.  Literally.  Technically, she didn’t really have to be there, but she wanted her county to do its part.

“Because of the size of our county, the size of our population, we’re not required to meet the 75-percent goal.  But we still want to work as hard as we can to do as much as we can so that’s why I’m looking at all these different options and ideas that have been proposed to see how or if we can implement any of these.”

One idea kicked around was launching more aggressive pro-recycling education programs targeting children.  Broward County’s Ron Greenstein:

“I have a seven-year old and a six-year old.  Those are the ones that tell me, ‘Why did you throw that paper there?  You should have put it in the recycling bin.’  And you know something?  It’s because I wasn’t thinking; I had seven things on my mind.  And kids are the future of recycling.  The only way we’re going to get to that 75-percent is if we spend more money on education, whether it’s TV or pencils in schools that are recyclable and bio-recycling programs.  The kids are looking at recycling purchases, too.”

Winter Park video producer Molly Canoli says that sort of thing is right up her alley.

“So you get kids excited about having a hands-on way to help the future of their world, they get excited about it, believe me.  I deal with those kids and I see them go through the trash and it’s like treasure to them and they find out, ‘What can I make this?  This is cool!  This is the coolest thing since sliced bread.’”

But the majority of Florida’s trash, about two-thirds of it, doesn’t come from homes but from businesses.  Samantha Padgett with the Florida Retail Federation says many businesses are already very much into recycling.

“We support them being able to innovate within their business models.  What we don’t support would be mandates that would be challenging for them and would drive up the cost and would be prohibitive and wouldn’t really deliver the results that are good for their business; for their consumers.”

And that’s the real challenge, how Florida can increase its recycling efforts without new laws or regulations.  Because, the way things are now, any county that isn’t meeting its recycling target can fall under the jurisdiction of the State Department of Environmental Protection.  Likewise, if the state as a whole doesn’t meeting its forty-percent recycling goal by the end of this year, DEP is supposed to give the legislative leadership a plan on how to meet the goal, which might include new laws and regulations.