Reuse, Reduce, Recycle: Shrinking Recycling Options Suggest Incoming Crisis

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The Three R’s took on new meaning in the 1990’s when municipalities found themselves struggling to keep up with the amount of trash trucked into ever-growing landfills across the nation. The catchy ad campaign, “Reduce- Reuse- Recycle,” enlightened many and created a revolution in how our nation handled the bounteous loads of trash our society generates daily.  

Unfortunately for many cities here in South Florida, the new reality will be “Reduce-Reuse, But Don’t Bother to Recycle.” As the global market for single-stream recyclables bottoms out and with Waste Management firming up their monopoly in the marketplace, cities throughout our region will be faced with some very tough choices.  

Deerfield Beach suspended their recycling program this past week rather than succumb to the enormous rate increases proposed by Waste Management. The cities of Sunrise and Lighthouse Point are actively seeking solutions other than the huge rate increases being dictated by Waste Management.  

The only thing for certain is that residents will be asked to pay more for removal of their trash and recyclables. How do you justify paying more for recycling if it’s only going to find its way to the local landfill? City staff here in Wilton Manors recently stated that Waste Management has given assurances that our recyclables, if not profitably disposed of, will be heading to the Wheelabrator waste-to-energy power plant in Fort Lauderdale.  However, with the Wheelabrator plant already near capacity and with no global market for single-stream recyclables, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the tons of recyclable material might just be heading to the same place as the contents of our trash bin, the Monarch Hill landfill or some other landfill.  

Our city will need to have an honest discussion on how best to deal with this horrific situation. Part of the problem is single-stream recycling, and one solution might be a return to separating out recyclables that still have a demand. Unfortunately, single-stream recycling was the perfect feel-good, easy solution for municipalities. Residents no longer had to spend time segregating their recyclables. We could just throw everything into the recycle bin and walk away feeling like we did our part saving the planet.  Unfortunately, discarded food, liquid soaked paper, and other contaminants are now the norm, and the market for such tainted items has come to an abrupt end with a global glut of unusable trash.  The day of reckoning for our easy fix is now here, and some tough choices will have to be made in the very near future.  

State law here in Florida sets guidelines for 75 percent of municipal waste in Broward County to be recycled by 2020. There seems to be little chance of that happening now. However, a group of surrounding cities here in Broward have come together and are awaiting a study that will come out in August, looking to address the 75 percent goal and how best to develop a more regional approach, which should include some form of a government-owned disposal facility.  

Many remain optimistic and would rather not see an abrupt end to very successful recycle programs firmly in place around our region.  For now it’s a waiting game until August for the results of the joint study. One thing for sure, the solution cannot be to divert all this waste to landfills. We must find ways to recycle a good portion of the waste we create.  

The global marketplace is realigning itself, away from single-stream recycling that is largely contaminated and unusable. The glut of used plastic is driving companies to convert that stream into diesel and petrochemicals. Cleaner loads of cardboard and paper are still fetching higher prices, and discarded aluminum cans are still a valuable item in the recycle bin.  

Single-stream recycling has been an easy fix and has made us all a bit complacent in being responsible for the waste we create. One must remember that there are three R’s in this equation. With Recycle no longer an option at this time, we must focus on the remaining two: Reuse and Reduce. Look at ways you can reduce the amount of trash and disposable material you go through on a daily basis. Reuse items whenever possible. Every little bit of unnecessary trash adds up to tons of garbage that have to be hauled away.   

OK, I can hear the moaning already.   

Yes, it’s easier to throw all the items to be recycled in just one bin and set it out each week at the curbside. However, that option is going to be much more expensive and is quickly coming to an end.  

So, let’s not give up on recycling just yet.  Start reducing and reusing, and let’s all keep working together to make life just better here.  


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