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Reading, writing and arithmetic are the fundamentals for early learning. These core skills might just offer us insight into a more recent rendition of the Three R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. 

We will certainly be reading more about recycling here in Wilton Manors and throughout the region, especially since the arithmetic will add up to costing residents a lot more money. 

Many recent discussions blame China for the recycling catastrophe facing cities throughout our region. China is not to blame for this mess. Our neglectful creation of tons of contaminated, unusable trash that we pass off as co-mingled recyclables is the real culprit that got us into this mess. 

The global market for co-mingled recyclables, of which China was the largest purchaser, no longer exists. This hasn’t stopped us from filling up our Green Bins each week, putting them at the end of the drive, and having the contents carted away. 

At the end of the day we all go to bed believing we did our part saving the planet and that all is right in the world. Unfortunately, most of this co-mingled mess goes to the waste-to-energy plant to be burnt as fuel, with some even being dumped in landfills. Now with higher bills coming due, residents will be asked to pay much more each month to keep this charade going. 

As new contracts are put in place between municipalities and trash removal companies such as Waste Management, rising costs can no longer be avoided by elected officials, residents and city management. The big question is how much more residents are willing to pay to have their Green Bins carted away each week, especially when most of the contents might be disposed of in the same manner as what’s in the regular trash bins. 

Gone are the good ole days when cities made money on recycle programs. Now the only one making money is Waste Management, with regained monopolistic power over the waste disposal business here in South Florida. Residents will now pay higher and higher cost to have co-mingled recyclables carted off. 

One new costly problem facing cities is the contamination rate of the recyclable material. We have grown very lazy over the years, filling up our Green Bins with dirty cans, pizza boxes, plastic bags, and so much more. We got accustomed to believing that almost everything is recyclable by just placing it all within the magic Green Bin.  Cities must have a comprehensive public education plan in place to make resident’s aware of the new reality of recycling. Here in Wilton Manors, city staff began the process of informing residents, but much more needs to be done. 

Reaching a few hundred residents here and there at neighborhood association meetings and similar events will not be enough.  The City needs to undertake a major education campaign, using every possible means of reaching residents. Each and every household’s Green Bin should have their lid covered with a new, updated, large decal graphically showing what should and should not be placed inside. Random inspections might have to be done around town with punitive citations issued to those who consistently fail to comply. 

Residents should not be the only ones who need to do and pay more. We must demand a regional and state-wide action plan for a long-term solution to this growing problem.  Waste Management currently has the upper hand with local governments having little or no choice but to pay much higher rates.  

So, as you feel your blood pressure rising when you see a much costlier bill in the mail, try writing our State Senator Gary Farmer, State Rep. Bobby Dubois, and County Commissioner Tim Ryan to complain. Local officials have little or no wiggle room with their backs against the wall because Waste Management is now pretty much the only game in town. 

As we discuss recycling, let us not forget the other two equally important R’s of the equation. Reduce and reuse might be far more important now that recycle is no longer much of an option. Reducing the amount of trash we produce has become critical. All those little plastic water bottles end up somewhere and we need to start thinking about the choices we make. Reuse is equally important. Utilizing items that we can reuse rather than throwing them into the Green Bin must become the new norm in our daily routines. Recycle needs to become the R of last resort, with Reduce and Reuse as the main priorities.  The goal should be to recycle and dispose of as little as possible.

Only by incorporating these three R’s fully into our daily routine instead of the quick fix of dumping items into the magic Green Bins will truly make life greener and better here.