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Pinellas County is trying to recycle smarter

Pinellas County’s recycling rate has remained steady at 80 percent, making it one of the top recyclers in the state.

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — For years there’s been an ongoing discussion about how to take better care of the planet. But it wasn’t until about 1970, when Gary Anderson shared his design of the recycling symbol, that people began to understand the importance of recycling.  

In 2008, Florida made a statewide goal to hit a 75 percent recycling rate by 2020. Unfortunately, the Sunshine State will not meet its goal.

“Overall, the 67 counties contribute to that rate, and the state is at about 54 percent,” said Stephanie Watson, who is the recycling outreach and programs supervisor for Pinellas County Solid Waste.

Watson explained the recycling rate is made up of an analysis of factors like people who recycle within their communities, recycled metals, and waste energy facilities -- which get a renewable energy credit for burning garbage. Counties that only have landfills struggle to meet the goals through the recycling program.

“The way the state’s goal is set up, unless you have a waste energy facility, it’s very hard to get your recycling rate up,” Watson said.

The only way Florida will ever achieve its 75 percent recycling rate is if the state puts programs in place to either require recycling or change the way the rate is counted. Right now, Florida counts its recycling in tonnage.

“Things have to weigh a lot to count,” Watson explained.

For the last three years, Pinellas County’s recycling rate has remained steady within the 80 percent range.

“Our county has been one of the top recyclers in the state,” Watson said. “Our residents and businesses have done a great job at recycling.”

Pinellas County runs a single stream recycling program, where homeowners place all their recycling products into one container for curbside pickup instead of separating paper, plastic, glass and cans.

“When the container is emptied at the materials recovery facility, they’ll do the sorting,” Watson explained. “Most of the sorting is done through machines; some of it is done by human workers.”

Anything left behind goes to the burner, which generates electricity. In return, Pinellas County receives a renewable energy credit.

Apartment and condo dwellers

If you live in an apartment or condominium and you don’t have a recycling collection program in your complex, Watson said to ask the property manager or the homeowner association.

“They will contact a collection company and get a quote for the community," Watson said.

However, if you’re opposed to spending the extra fee for recycling collection, you can always take your recycled goods to a drop-off center. There are about 50 drop-off sites in Pinellas County. 

Recycling tool you can use

To help residents get their recyclable trash to the right place, Pinellas County launched an online A to Z Guide to Recycling and Disposal. You search for the item you’re trying to recycle or dispose of — for example, a fire extinguisher or a propane tank. The guide will then give you the closest location where you can drop off your items.

“We recently did a survey and found that 29 percent of Pinellas County residents use that tool when they don’t know what resource to use,” Watson said.

The guide is available on the county’s website and can also be used as a widget if you want to include it on your website.

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