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Serving as city commissioner is a pretty great job. While it’s not necessarily glamorous, it is generally filled with events and meetings that are fun to attend and often interesting.

That being said, not every important meeting occurs at one of our beautiful businesses or in a clean city hall meeting room.

This past Monday, I took advantage of an opportunity to tour Waste Management’s recycling facility located west of Pembroke Pines. It was an important tour for two reasons. First, I am keen to understand how we pay for waste services in our city since it is a significant cost to residents. Second, many residents (myself included) are keen to know what actually happens with our recycling. Both issues had been hot topics recently as we experienced a shift in our recycling pickup schedule and had to approve a renewal in our Waste Management contract.

One important thing for residents in Wilton Manors to understand is that we do not send our trash to a landfill. Non-recycled waste is actually sent to a trash-to-energy plant which burns our garbage to convert into energy without polluting the environment. Doing so is actually more expensive than sending it to a landfill, and we can expect the cost for disposing of our waste this way to increase. On the flip side, it is certainly better than having it all end up in a landfill.

It’s also important for residents to know that a lot has changed about how recycling works over the last two decades. There was once a time when Chinese buyers paid a decent price to take our recyclable materials. That came to a screeching halt with the Chinese Government’s Operation Green Fence, which essentially stopped the export of our recycling materials to China. The market for recycling materials essentially fell out, and as I understand it, there was a period of time when recycling material actually just ended up in the landfill.

Today, the market for recycled goods is slowly returning and is primarily US-based, although there are some serious challenges that we need to be aware of. Essentially, many of us have been “green-washed” by-product marketers to believe that the green “recycling symbol” means that product are automatically recyclable. In reality, Waste Management (and many other South Florida recycling facilities) can recycle only certain goods for which there is a resale market. Goods like metal, paper, glass, and cardboard are generally recyclable but with different values on the resale market. Some products, like cardboard, have a strong resale market while others like glass can actually have very poor resale value or even cost money to recycle.

The most confusing or challenging items to recycle are plastic items. A good general rule of thumb is plastics with a narrow neck (like plastic water bottles) are recyclable, while those with a wide neck (like Starbucks cups or wax cups) are not. The term neck refers to the size of the opening relative to the size of the body. One really important note: plastic bags are not recyclable, so never place them in a recycle bin or use them to bag other recyclable items. You can read more about what is and isn’t recyclable on Waste Management’s Recycling 101 website at

As I mentioned earlier, part of my tour was to better understand the costs associated with our Waste Management contract. Since we earn a credit based on the resale of our recycling on the commodity market, I asked Waste Management staff to explain how that is calculated. Several times a month random sampling of several hundred pounds of our recycling is pulled off a truck. Their team literally picks through the trash, sorting it out by the type of recycling material (i.e. plastic, glass, cardboard) it is and weighs each type. They also weigh the amount of “contamination” in the sample. Contamination is the amount of trash or non-recyclable content that is in the sample. Contamination reduces our payout and actually has a cost associated with it. Our city has historically averaged less than 20% contamination, which is considered great, but I believe we can get better.

When residents remain cognizant of what they throw in the recycling bin, they can ensure more of our waste actually does end up being recycled and actually reduce our city’s collective bill for services by helping us earn a higher credit from recycling. If residents regularly contaminate our recycling stream with trash like plastic bags, baby diapers, or non-recyclable plastic like Starbucks cups, they are potentially increasing the cost of waste services for all of us as well as contaminating the recycling stream.

I certainly learned a lot from my visit to the Waste Management recycling plant. It also opened my eyes to how much deeper I need to dig to understand what happens to our waste and exactly what can and can’t be recycled. Thankfully, the staff at Waste Management has agreed to hold more public education workshops through our neighborhood associations this year. Be on the lookout for announcements from your neighborhood association about upcoming educational events.  

If you have questions or comments about how we manage garbage or recycling in our city, do not hesitate to reach out to me via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or text at 954.557.2801. 

- Chris Caputo, Wilton Manors City Commissioner  

P.S. You can view more photos and videos from my tour of the recycling facility at


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