Nearly two months after Collier County made it mandatory for businesses to recycle, local companies are forming new habits.
They’re sorting everything from cardboard to concrete for reuse, instead of sending all their trash to the landfill.
Although it is an added expense for some, most businesses say they’re happy to comply.
“It’s the right thing to do — even if it’s a little bit harder,” said Mark Price, an attorney at Roetzel & Andress, a law firm on U.S. 41 North and Park Shore Drive in Naples.
Roetzel & Andress recycles paper, phone books, aluminum cans and toner cartridges for printers, in addition to using desktop faxing and electronic folders to cut down on paper.
“In the long run I think it can be helpful,” Price said. “Any effort that we could make to reduce the burden on our landfills collectively can make an impact.”
Collier joins three other Florida counties and the city of Gainesville in requiring businesses to recycle.
In Gainesville, where there has been a mandate since 1997, nearly 40 percent of all trash from commercial enterprises is recycled, said Joni Rollen, assistant for the recycling program.
Collier doesn’t track how much trash is recycled, but county spokeswoman Margie Hapke said that businesses, which account for 60 percent of the solid waste in the county, can recycle 50 percent of what they throw away.
Lee County doesn’t require businesses to recycle, but county commissioners have taken steps to encourage it. In October when the county raises its rates for garbage collection — mainly to cover rising fuel costs — commercial disposal rates will rise more than residential rates.
Lee County also has required the four companies they contract with for trash collection to charge $1.25 per cubic yard for any recyclables for Lee businesses, said Lindsey Sampson, director of solid waste for the county.
In Collier, recycling haulers aren’t regulated. Recycling only will be enforced when county staff members are on a property to investigate another complaint, Hapke said. The first offense receives only a warning, and so far none have been issued. A second offense comes with a fine.
Collier commissioners approved the mandatory recycling ordinance last year, following disappointing results from an 18-month program by the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce to encourage voluntary recycling for Collier’s 3,200 commercial enterprises. The ordinance went into effect Aug. 1, after a one-year grace period for businesses to comply.
The program was initiated when county officials learned the landfill’s expiration date would soon approach if waste continued to be disposed of at the same rate. If nothing is done to reduce the amount of trash currently being buried in the 312-acre landfill in southern Collier, the estimated life of the landfill is about 20 years, Hapke said.
With the voluntary program, the number of companies that recycled rose only from 10 percent to 12 percent. It was difficult to stir up interest, said David Weston, chairman of the program.
“It’s not a sexy subject,” said Weston, president and chief financial officer of Naples-based Coastal Engineering Consultants Inc. and a self-described recycling fanatic. “You wanna talk about garbage?”
He said he found that many businesses — especially restaurants — were reluctant to recycle because the additional cost and space for recycling bins might hurt their ability to compete.
“No one wants to be the first one to do it,” he said. “So by having the playing field leveled we felt that was OK.”
Mike Reagen, president of the Naples Chamber, said he hasn’t heard any protests about mandatory recycling.
“The county made the ordinance very, very reasonable,” he said.
Businesses can contract with a recyclables hauler or drop off the materials themselves at collection sites or at any of Collier’s three recycling centers. Exemptions are available for businesses that use a 96-gallon trash container for pickup twice a week, or for those who would suffer a “substantial hardship” in following the ordinance.
The county also will relax the land development code if there are conflicts with the ordinance. For example, if a Dumpster for cardboard takes up a parking space which causes the business to no longer have the required number of spaces, the county could waive that code requirement.
Businesses in the cities of Naples and Marco Island are exempt from Collier County’s recycling ordinance. However, both cities expect to consider similar mandates by the end of the year.
Currently, the county is distributing new 64-gallon residential recycling bins with bright yellow lids, but it doesn’t give bins to commercial enterprises. Generally, recycling haulers provide the containers.
Sunshine Recycling in Fort Myers geared up for the new ordinance by stocking up on its containers, including Dumpsters for cardboard.
“We’ve been preparing ourselves for it,” said Nick Amundsen, president of the company, which does about half its business in Collier.
Waste Management, Collier County’s trash contractor, has seen a spike in calls since July about business recycling services, district manager Larry Berg said.
Recycling can cost a business anywhere from $40 to $150 a month if they use Waste Management. But often when recycling goes up, the amount of regular trash goes down, Berg said.
“A lot of them have been able to downsize their Dumpster, which has helped limit their expenses,” he said.
Brian Sutton, owner of Tropical Reef restaurant on U.S. 41 in North Naples, has seen a drop in the amount of trash in his company’s Dumpster since he started recycling glass, plastics and metal. Before the ordinance, he was recycling just cardboard.
Sutton, who also owns Naples Cheesecake Co. and a catering business called the Tasting Spoon, said he hasn’t recycled more because it was too expensive when he got started four years ago.
It’s more affordable now at $28 a month for everything but the cardboard.
“In some ways it’s kind of a burden” to separate recyclables, Sutton said, “but for the environment it is good, especially down here because of the Everglades and beaches and because (the area) is growing so fast.”
The ordinance is a burden for some businesses that have only a handful of employees.
Pelican Bay Floors, across from the north entrance to Pelican Bay development on U.S. 41 North, has three employees and finds it difficult to recycle.
“The larger businesses, like a corporation or manufacturer, they can control it with things like a cardboard smasher, but we can’t do that,” owner Rick Johnson said. “It makes it tough on us.”
But even some larger operations still are smoothing out new areas of recycling.
Prime Outlets on Collier Boulevard near Marco Island recently started collecting glass and aluminum cans from its 40 stores. Their plan is for each store to sort the materials and then for maintenance workers to pick them up, senior general manager Joyce Ford said.
“We’re just working out the details of separating glass and cans,” she said.
As a result of Collier County’s new recycling law, they’ve also contracted with a paper shredding company to help with recycling at its administrative offices.
The mall has been going strong on cardboard recycling for about nine years. Currently, there are pickups twice a week for the outlet’s nine Dumpsters.
Publix Supermarkets also goes through an enormous amount of cardboard. In 2004, its 16 Collier stores recycled 5,000 tons of cardboard, company spokeswoman Maria Brous said. It doesn’t skimp on plastic either: Last year it recycled 185 tons of it.
No additional action was required to comply with the ordinance, Brous said.
“We support the ordinance obviously in our values of being intolerant of waste and good stewards to our stockholders and being involved as responsible citizens in the community,” she said.
Some recycling haulers haven’t seen much change in their business, either.
Commercial Cleanup Enterprises Inc., which hauls and recycles construction and demolition debris, is doing the same amount of business as before the ordinance.
“It’s cheaper to recycle than it is to landfill,” said Trevor Tibstra, chief operating officer of the Naples-based company.
He’s received more calls lately from businesses inquiring about recycling, but usually he has to pass them off to other companies because he doesn’t haul materials like paper and metal.
Carla DeMarco, president of Naples-based DeMarco Tile Inc., contracts with three different haulers to take away her businesses’ recyclables, which includes everything from magazines to broken tiles.
It’s costing her an extra $200 each month to comply with the ordinance, even with one less trash Dumpster that used to cost her $159 a month.
She said the additional cost is OK with her.
“It is more expensive than the old way, but for the future — it’s much better.”