Florida is at risk of missing recycling goal

Are state leaders making the right choices for the environment?

Florida already missed its 2016 recycling benchmark by six percent and, unless state and local governments ramp up efforts, it may fall short of its 2020 goal.

Last year, the state recycled 54 percent of its waste, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. That’s ways away from the 75 percent objective by the year 2020 mandated by the legislature.

Most single-family residences with curbside recycling pick up in the Tampa Bay are doing their part, according to county reports. Al Donn, 68, is especially passionate about minimizing his waste.

He even picks up what’s not his when he goes on his morning walks.

“I don’t want it harming the environment,” he said.

But when he goes out to eat with his wife, they have one option: the trash bin. So, they walk out with their polystyrene (commonly known as Styrofoam) cups.

“We take it someplace where it can be recycled,” Donn said.

Most of what goes to the landfill in Pinellas County comes from commercial buildings. One-thousand trucks full of trash arrive at the solid waste management facility daily.

“We would love businesses to reduce the amount of waste that they're sending to us,” Catherine Eichner, Pinellas County Solid Waste Environmental Specialist, said.

States like Minnesota and California require their businesses and apartment complexes to recycle by law; Florida doesn’t.

When asked why, Gov. Rick Scott avoided the question.

“I think it’s very important that we continue to recycle. One thing our schools have done a really good job educating our kids and our grandkids,” Gov. Scott said. “I have grandkids. They always make sure they know which one is the recycling bin in our house. Hopefully, everybody will be doing that and hopefully, we’ll get caught back up.”

Pinellas County burns most of the garbage that doesn’t get recycled to produce energy, enough to power 40,000 houses and businesses every day. But staff at the landfill will tell you, they have enough trash to burn.

“Recycling all these materials would save natural resources: oil, energy, water,” Sarah Herzig, Pinellas County Solid Waste Technician, said. “We only want what can't be recycled to come here and then, we'll use it as a resource.”

Even with all the trash we throw out, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties are tied for the number one spot in the state for recycling. So, we compared that to a more progressive region that has a similar population size: San Jose, California.

That city has about 1 million people and sends to the landfill about 650,000 tons of garbage a year. In Pinellas County, we're just short of a million people at almost 960,000. We throw away 1 million tons of trash.

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