Being “green” and recycling has been to many a beneficial trend nationwide in recent years. Logically, there is little push-back when the facts are presented. The U.S. is the number one trash-producing country in the world at 1,609 pounds per person per year—which translates to five percent of the world’s people generating 40 percent of the world’s waste. For example, it is estimated that Americans use 2,500,000 plastic bottles every hour, with the majority of them thrown away.
Despite the need and benefit to recycle and repurpose materials, many states, including Florida, do not have universal recycling laws. “There’s not a statewide mandate for recycling in the state of Florida,” says Lauren McCarthy, former executive director of the Florida Recycling Partnership. “It is done on a county and municipal basis; a very convoluted system.”
While in 2006 Florida’s 67 counties had a total of 8,567,931 tons of municipal solid waste deposited in landfills through recycling, in 2009 Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach had 2,363,408 tons of combusted garbage and 1,798,045 tons of recycled materials. These numbers are expected to grow exponentially with growing population rates.
In an effort to offset these increases, Florida has taken significant measures to increase its recycling program. This was best underscored by the passage of The Energy, Climate Change and Economic Security Act of 2008. The purpose was to establish a new statewide recycling goal of 75 percent to be achieved by the year 2020.
“The 75 percent recycling goal is the highest of any state,” Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Michael Sole noted after the bill was passed. “It will be a challenge to achieve, but it can be reached through partnerships among state government, local governments, trade organizations, schools, businesses and industries as well as the people of Florida.”
What the Government Says
For HOAs, determining how best to recycle requires research, due diligence and an investment. While many condominiums and cooperatives may have a recycling and garbage removal plan in place, new regulations must be adhered to or fines can be levied. Additionally, when waste management contracts end, terms should be revisited especially in light of new legislation.
“One of the challenges with multiple unit housing is that they are considered commercial and not residential; another challenge is growth management and zoning,” says Martha Harbin, the executive director of the Florida Beverage Association and a public affairs consultant at Policy Wisdom, LLC, a Miami-based organization that provides strategic approaches to shape policies affecting health, environment, safety and development worldwide. “New laws have made it difficult to build a recycling facility complex especially in an older building that needs to be retrofitted. While necessary it’s not cheap.”
In Miami-Dade County, for example, the law states that “property owners of commercial establishments must provide a recycling program for their employees and tenants, using the services of an authorized waste hauler or private recycling hauler.” Approved businesses include: General Hauling, Waste Services of Florida, Choice Environmental and All Service. Since they adhere to state regulations, pricing for services is usually competitive. Both waste management and recycling companies and associations can be fined for failure to meet laws and regulations. However, since the law was passed it has been reported that bogus organizations such as the “National Department of Renewable Resources” have been attempting to obtain compensation for recycling shortfalls.
According to the City of Miami website, a program must include the recycling of at least three of the following items: high grade office paper, mixed paper, corrugated cardboard, glass, aluminum, steel, other scrap production metals, plastics, textiles, wood. Further, it goes on to state that “those which incorporate modifications, substitutions or reductions to the requirements stated above may be submitted to the Department of Solid Waste Management for review and approval.”
Keyna Cory, president of Public Affairs Consultants, a public affairs consulting firm in Tallahassee, is an expert in business regulation, environmental, recycling, solid waste, transportation, telecommunications and agriculture issues, and works with variety of clients across the state. Cory explained that an amendment to the aforementioned bill—the addition of Recycling Assistance Business Centers, is a move aimed at ensuring that the 75 percent goal in 2020 is achieved.
“Recycling materials is commodity-based and fluctuates with the market. Sometime metals are valued at a higher rate while recycled paper products usually remain steady but those markets can drop,” says Cory. While metals and paper materials are among the state’s most recycled items, Recycling Assistance Business Centers (RABC) are being pushed to create a market for materials not commonly recycled in the state.
“This would create more markets, business and jobs and encourage different recycling efforts for different materials that might now have to be shipped out of state,” says Cory. “One of the main problems is that a majority of people just don’t do their share of recycling.”
Harbin agrees that the RABC’s are a terrific idea; she conceded however that due to state budgetary snafus, funds have not been available to fully roll out the program. “There has been a shortfall and we’re hoping for a turnaround because this will create commercial interest and hopefully more investment from the private sector.”
And there is money to be made in recycling efforts. According to the EPA, each ton (2,000 pounds) of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4,000 kilowatts of energy and 7,000 gallons of water which represents a 64 percent energy savings, a 58 percent water savings and 60 pounds less of air pollution. Companies tapping into these resource savings will capitalize which could, in the long run, bring down recycling costs for HOAs.
Green on Green
South Florida has many natural attributes and accordingly a sensitive ecosystem—from native plants to exotic birds—which makes recycling materials especially important. As the population booms, man-made structures and resulting garbage and debris has encroached on these lands giving rise to an increased call for conservation. But Mother Nature also produces her own share of waste, which can be an equal problem.
In a recent paper published on Earth911.com, Wes Muir, director of Communication for Waste Management, underscored Florida’s approach to this issue which has long been on the right side of the proverbial ecological fence, but as Muir points out, that sometimes it is not enough. Muir explains that many companies are investing in organics management technologies ranging from composting and anaerobic digestion to chemical conversion technologies. For the last 15 years, Florida has had legislation modifying organics bans but “the infrastructure has not been developed to manage the vast volume of organic materials generated in the state,” he notes.
The state released a waste composition study in 2008 that states that 3.4 million tons of yard waste is collected each year but less than 50 percent of it is composted. Muir notes that the majority of the organic material collected in the state ultimately ends up in unlined Class III and C and D landfills “where there is no collection of methane or other greenhouse gases (GHGs). Clearly, this was not the intent of the original legislation in the 1990s.”
A recent bill passed allowing communities the option of disposing organic material in Class I landfills, he notes, but only if those facilities have gas capture systems that beneficially use the gas that results from the waste’s decomposition. Qualifying landfills are required to apply for, and obtain, a permit modification before they can receive yard waste.
“If you look at what is ending up in the landfills that should be recycled, the largest percentage is construction debris and yard waste. These are the hard issues but the issues that have to be addressed because if addressed it could be better for the municipalities and lessen the landfills,” says Harbin. Cory adds that due to Florida’s low water table and its vast hurricane season, there are often issues with waste due to soakage after storms that offset weight issues.
Dumping the Bottle Bill?
For many boards and associations, it can take some cajoling to get all residents on board with recycling programs. When there is construction and hazardous waste resulting that is easier handled because each municipality has regulations that have to be adhered to, but everyday recycling is often an uphill battle.
“Co-op and condos are one of the bigger targets in terms of increasing recycling efforts,” says Harbin. “These are multiple households which are different than curbside pickup and they are not being afforded the opportunity to recycle and many may want to.”
While all information on recycling laws can be found by visiting the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s website, Cory said there are many small steps residents in multi-unit housing can take.
“We have been working with Nestle and Aquafina that have changed the plastic in their water bottles for example—so those brands we support. But people can return their plastic bags to Wal-Mart and Publix and since many condominiums residents are older, we suggest the stronger cloth bags that are, of course, reusable.”
One recycling effort which had been proposed earlier this year is the “bottle bill” which McCarthy, Harbin and Cory all find issue with. The legislation would have placed a redeemable refund on each bottle and can similar to states like New York. A University of Florida study found that 30 million beverage containers end up in state landfills neither recycled nor redeemed. The survey also found that 60 percent of state residents support the bottle bill.
While many legislators feel it could be a plus for Florida’s economy, Cory stands in opposition. “We would oppose a bottle bill because Florida already has a very expansive recycling program and we probably have one of the best curbside recycling programs in the country so if you start taking out one of the commodities its disrupts the entire recycling program.”
The bill died a few days after it was introduced but environmental advocates and lawmakers vow to revisit it in 2012.
W. B. King is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The South Florida Cooperator and other publications.