Recycling cans and bottles is easy, but you must choose to rinse them out. (Photo: Vectorpower/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Recycling, long a way of life in Southwest Florida, is in trouble in places.
Changing markets, lackluster participation and confusion over what should be recycled have caused communities to rethink whether it’s worth the bother of separate trash collection for reusable materials.
Thankfully, there’s no indication that’s about to happen here.
Unlike some government programs, where citizens aren’t required or empowered to do much other than sit back and watch it work (or not work) recycling requires regular effort from and offers ongoing rewards for everyone.
Fortunately, governments in Collier and Lee counties have made it easy for everyone to contribute.
It wasn’t always so. We remember the 1990s and Collier’s bulky, open 18-gallon bins that required an often back-breaking lug to the curb. There, a crew would sort the items by hand into separate compartments on the truck before driving the few feet to the next house to repeat the process.
By 2005 the county had switched to single stream recycling and wheeled carts with a lid that could be easily transported and mechanically emptied, leaving little excuse for residents not to make the minimal effort to put recyclables in one cart, trash in another.
Statistics show it’s working.
Collier County ranks fifth in the state in rate of recycling, according to the latest figures from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Eighty-five percent of single-family homes participate in the curbside pickup program. For commercial buildings, the rate is 92 percent.
Through 2017, FDEP estimates 68 percent of Collier’s garbage stream was being recycled. The goal is to hit 75 percent by the end of 2020.
Yard waste is the most common item, with an estimated 99 percent of it being recycled into mulch.
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Sixty-five percent of cardboard and 58 percent of newspapers make it to the recycling stream.
Lee County ranks fourth in the state and has already reached the 75 percent goal.
In Lee County horticultural waste helps fuel the waste-to-energy incinerator that reduces it and other non-recyclable materials to about 10 percent of their original volume.
While Collier and Lee counties show no signs of slowing down in their efforts, it behooves everyone to make recycling work as efficiently as possible.
That entails knowing what goes in the recycling cart and what doesn’t.
Collier County, Lee County and the City of Naples have posted extensive guides on their websites offering instructions.
For example, while it’s commonly known that plastics are recyclable, not all plastics are created equally in that regard. Look for the numbers 1 through 7 marked on the bottom.
Plastic bags may be great for lining the kitchen garbage can, but they shouldn’t be thrown in with the recyclables, experts say.
Aluminum and metal cans are top-of-the line recyclables, but aluminum and metal pots, pans, screens, tools, car parts and lawn furniture belong in the trash.
Glass in the form of green, brown and clear bottles recycle.
Glass in the form of dishes, cookware, windows and mirrors, not so much.
Estimates are that Americans go through enough aluminum cans every three months to replace the entire commercial air fleet.
We discard enough glass bottles to fill up a large stadium every two weeks.
The city of Naples estimates its residents generate trash at double the national average.
In short, there’s too much potential garbage heading to landfills to not stick with Southwest Florida’s successful recycling tradition.
Brent Batten wrote this for the Naples Daily News editorial board.
Read or Share this story: https://www.naplesnews.com/story/opinion/2019/06/04/editorial-southwest-floridas-recycling-tradition-worth-saving/1343303001/