Giving future generations a sustainable planet is a huge responsibility.
Currently, Indian River County produces about 450 tons of garbage per day. Of that waste, about one-third is recycled. Last year Indian River County provided 21,334 tons of recyclable waste to the nearest processing plant in Fort Pierce.
This means recycled garbage was turned into new products such as pens, tables, yard furniture, assorted paper products and more. But that leaves nearly two-thirds of the trash as waste that ends up at the landfill
Florida lawmakers have set a goal that by 2020, 75 percent of the garbage that would otherwise be disposed in landfills, waste management or incineration facilities, be recycled.
“We are keenly interested in getting to Florida’s 75 percent recycling by 2020,” said Vincent Burke, Indian River County Director of Utilities. “We intend to keep educating, using single-stream recycling and increasing our recycling intake.”
Waste to energy
As the technology advances, generating energy from waste is more and more becoming a viable option. Two methods — landfill-gas-to-energy (LFGTE) and waste-to-energy (WTE) – are showing promising results.
LFGTE captures methane gas which is naturally produced as the garbage rots in the landfill. This gas can be turned into energy. However, due to budget and logistical constraints, often the gas is flared into the atmosphere. Dissipating this gas from a mountain of garbage is a necessary evil, but it does contribute to the greenhouse effect.
WTE consists of burning all the waste together — plastic, soiled paper, household waste and whatever else comes into the landfill. This incineration generates steam which is then captured and used to power generators which produce electricity.
In 2018, U.S. power plants used renewable energy sources — water (hydroelectric), wood, wind, waste-to-energy, geothermal, and solar — to generate about 17 percent of our domestic electricity.
However, Burke noted: “Our county currently just doesn’t have the tax base or the waste base to sustain a waste-to-energy plant.”
And it should be recognized both these alternative energy options pollute the environment in various ways. Current Clean Air Act requirements create stringent guidelines and making such procedures cost prohibitive.
“It’s very expensive to build a waste-to-energy plant,” said Sue Flak, Recycling Education coordinator of Indian River County Solid Waste Disposal District.
The Solid Waste Disposal District is working on a landfill gas agreement with Indian River Eco District, LLC to create electricity to add to the grid. The board is also looking into recycling opportunities for concrete and construction materials, as well as innovative approaches for yard waste.
As of 2019, Florida has 12 waste-to-energy plants. This number has grown from one plant in 1982. To date, Florida has the largest capacity to burn municipal solid waste of any state in the country.
Palm Beach County has two waste-to-energy plants.
“The newest Palm Beach county waste-to-energy plant, opened in 2015, and cost $700 million,” said Willie Puz, from the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County. “Our plants adhere to EPA standards and it’s expensive to maintain, nearly $50 million each year. The Palm Beach county plants do sell their residual energy to the grid.”
The Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for setting emission guidelines for both landfill methane gas emissions as well as emissions from waste-to-energy incinerating plants. The guidelines can add extra cost to maintain the plants which hits the bottom line and can make these types of plants expensive to maintain.
IRC Keep Indian River Beautiful’ s former Re-use Exchange Center became an Upcycle store five years ago.
“With our new location (on Old Dixie Highway) we weigh everything that comes in. We keep records of this and know the amount that’s kept out of the landfill,” said Daisy Packer, executive director of Keep Indian River Beautiful.
The store also maintains a teacher’s section where school supplies, project materials and an assortment of schoolroom items are free for local teachers.
“We have consignment artists as well who repurpose items into art and sell it at the store,” said Packer. “It’s our mission to upcycle as much as we can.”
KIRB is also responsible for at least five recycling events a year where bins are made available and all materials taken to the proper recycling center.
“We encourage local businesses to do this as well and recycle at their own events,” added Packer.
Businesses can contact KIRB for “Borrow-A-Bin” recycling containers. After the event, the businesses can take the waste to a local IRC convenience center for recycling and return the bin to KIRB.
With accepted contaminated recycling being severely limited starting in 2018 each attempt to reduce, reuse and recycle adds up.
“At our most recent shredding event we had 713 cars drop off 19,644 tonnage of paper which will be repurposed into toilet paper,” said Flak.
Southeast Secure Shredding (3910 US 1 Vero Beach) was hugely instrumental for this most successful shredding event to date.
KIRB is located 1596 Old Dixie Highway in Vero Beach for more information call 772-226-7738 or visit KeepIndianRiverBeautiful.org
The next Solid Waste Disposal District’s Electronics Recycling Event will be June 1 at the Intergenerational Facility. For more information visit www.ircrecycles.com.
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