NAPLES — There may be less to be down in the dumps about as recycling requirements are about to stiffen for Southwest Florida businesses and those across the state.
Collier and Lee county leaders think commercial recycling saves money because it means lighter-weight trash removal and fewer pickups.
Some large businesses agree, but several small businesses report that it’s not always the case for them.
State requirements are becoming more stringent now that Gov. Charlie Crist has signed House Bill 7243. The measure, which takes effect July 1, will require each county’s recycling goal to jump from 30 percent currently to 75 percent of materials by 2020, with several milestones to reach along the way.
Counties could become ineligible for grants if they don’t meet the quotas set by the state, said Ron Henricks, director of waste reduction with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Collier County government has required commercial recycling since 2004. Naples, Lee County and Bonita Springs began in 2008, but Marco Island is yet to jump on the bandwagon.
Lee and Collier counties are exceeding the current requirements and ahead of many other areas in the state, Henricks said.
The change in law also will allow waste-to-energy to count toward recycling, putting Lee County even further ahead of the pack, he added.
Lee County has a power-generating garbage incinerator.
Skepticism about the cost and process were slowing down the city of Marco’s move into commercial recycling.
“I want to know exactly, all the way through, what is happening to the recyclables,” Marco Planning Board member Vince Magee said.
He said he was always a bit skeptical, but after learning that Lee County burned the recycling materials for one year in its waste-to-energy plant, he wanted proof that people aren’t wasting their time and space sorting the materials in Collier or Lee.
Both counties now take their recycling materials to the Pembroke Pines Recycling Center in Broward County.
Magee followed a hauler from Marco Island to the recycling plant on Thursday to see for himself.
A great moment of satisfaction in the day-long trip was seeing a Marco Eagle newspaper going through a sorting machine in the afternoon, he said.
Prior to the trip, Magee said he was ready to follow the recycling process all the way through to its end.
“I’m ready to go all the way to China, you know what I’m saying?” he said.
China is among the main purchasers of Florida’s recyclable materials, particularly cardboard, followed by the state of Florida, which purchases much of the glass to make asphalt for roads, reported Larry Berg, district manager for Waste Management, which serves Collier County.
Collier County government officials are putting the pressure on the Marco Island Planning Board and City Council to approve commercial recycling requirements.
Magee said he completely supports their efforts after making the trip.
Marco officials are to continue fine-tuning a proposed agreement with Collier County officials this summer, but concerns of cost and space for bins remain among many members of the Greater Marco Island Chamber of Commerce, said Vip Grover, chamber president.
That can be overcome by decreasing the size of the trash bin, as well as the amount and frequency of trash pickup, government leaders say.
“Space is an issue and so was cost until they found that their bill could be lowered,” Bonita Springs City Manager Gary Price said of businesses there.
Despite the lack of a mandate on Marco Island, several businesses, including the Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, already are recycling.
Hilton continues to hire Waste Management for recycling pickup; Hilton began recycling cardboard and hazardous materials in 2001. The resort added more materials through the years, recycling soap, shampoo and other items.
That has added up to a huge savings through less trash removal for the hotel, said the resort’s chief engineer, Dean Thomas.
Marco Hilton saves at least $1,000 monthly in trash pickup now, Thomas said.
“You save in two places — volume and weight, especially with glass as it’s so heavy,” he said.
Although trash removal isn’t paid by volume, the big expense comes each time the haulers have to come to pick up the full commercial containers. Part of the recycling process caused the hotel to compress more materials, decreasing the volume and number of times the hauler came to the property.
“They’d have to live down here if we didn’t recycle,” Thomas said.
Guests are provided green trash receptacles in their room if they choose to recycle. If they don’t, housekeepers sort the trash and recycling daily, Thomas said.
Now that Waste Management has a front loader truck, recycling will become more efficient because the materials can be commingled and picked up without sorting. So, the hotel is about to get into full-blown mixed recycling and save an even bigger bundle, Thomas added.
In Naples, one restaurant owner said although he’s not saving money, he’s happy to recycle. It took the city passing an ordinance to require recycling to get his restaurant, Bambusa Bar and Grill, along with the 11 other businesses in Empire Plaza at 600 Goodlette-Frank Road N., to do so.
“We always wanted to recycle because we wasted so much glass,” said Mel Biondi, owner of Bambusa.
However, when the restaurant opened in 2004, renters in Empire Plaza were already paying a maintenance fee to landlord Yadira Vega for trash removal. If recycling was added, Bambusa would have to foot the extra bill, Biondi said.
When Naples passed its ordinance in 2008, Vega entrusted Biondi to pull together a recycling program for the entire plaza, Biondi said.
Now, the plaza has a Dumpster for solid waste and bins for cardboard, glass, aluminum and fryer oil.
The weight of the trash decreased but not enough to cover the expense of separate recycling pickup, Biondi said.
“I do this because, personally, I feel like we need to move toward a sustainable society,” he said.
Nonetheless, he has some skepticism.
“It’d be nice to know that corporate America and local government is holding their end of the bargain,” he said.
The corporate approach across differing properties presents a challenge in some cases.
Miller Ale House, a national chain, has a Naples-area location with room for more recycling bins, but the Gulf Coast Town Center location in San Carlos Park doesn’t have more space, Naples’ store manager Kathy Parsley said.
Miller Ale House in Naples recycles cardboard, meeting the minimum Collier County requirement to recycle the material they use the most. However, they do not recycle glass, although they go through at least 10 cases of beer a day, making a heavy load of trash, Parsley said.
“We’ve talked about recycling it,” she said. “We’re analyzing the cost and savings.”
By the numbers:
- 6, the percentage of recycling collected in Florida that goes back into the landfill because it’s not actually recyclable
- 1 million, dollars earned annually by Lee County government through selling energy from burned trash to Seminole Electric
- 43, the percentage of commercial and residential materials recycled in Lee County, including Bonita Springs
- 95, the percentage of businesses in compliance with Lee County mandatory recycling, including Bonita Springs
- 36, the percentage of materials recycled by Collier County businesses and multifamily residences
- 38, the percentage of commercial and residential materials recycled in Collier County
- 85, the percentage of businesses in the city of Naples in compliance with mandatory recycling
- 500, the maximum amount of dollars charged in Southwest Florida per day for violating commercial recycling requirements
- 30, the percentage of materials Florida’s counties are required to recycle
- 75, the percentage of recyclable materials Florida counties will need to recycle by 2020