Santa Rosa County Commissioners are finalizing a contract to bring back recycling in 2020, a “Hail Mary” attempt to resurrect a program that’s teetering on the edge of collapse due to high contamination rates and poor international market value for recyclable material.
Commissioners voted unanimously Dec. 12 to adopt a contract with WPR Inc. to haul recyclables from the county’s central landfill to the Emerald Coast Utility Authority’s Materials Recycling Facility in Escambia County. The contract specifies the county will pay WPR Inc. $500 per “pull,” or trip, from the landfill to the ECUA facility — an estimated cost of up to $300,000 per year in taxpayer funds, according to Ron Hixson, the county’s environmental manager.
The contract was expected to begin Jan. 1, but WPR Inc. has not yet obtained some of the equipment it needs in order to begin hauling. Hixson said he believes the equipment will be ready to go, and recycling will officially begin in the county again after a nine-month hiatus, by the end of January.
But if ECUA were to suddenly terminate the contract with the county, like it did in April 2019, the contract stipulates that the county would still be on the hook to pay WPR $5,000 per month for the remainder of the contracted year — a stipulation that District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker said gave him “heartburn.”
“Frankly, this failed (the last time) because we do have a portion of citizens that don’t obey the laws that are there… and so, I don’t know that I really have the level of confidence to say that many citizens are going to change their behaviors from where they were a year ago,” Parker said at the Dec. 12 commission meeting.
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The two key issues that made ECUA cancel its previous recycling contract with the county were poor market values due to China not accepting recycling anymore, and high contamination rates from Santa Rosa County.
Contaminated recyclables like greasy pizza boxes, Styrofoam, ice cream cartons, plastic or metal hangers and aerosol cans mean the entire load of otherwise clean recyclables is rejected at the recycling center, which costs Santa Rosa County $250 per rejected load.
County Commissioners said if residents can’t follow the recycling rules and fail to put only clean, accepted recyclable products in their bins, recycling likely won’t return after this year.
Jamie O’Guynn removes a log from the recycling line at Emerald Coast Utilities Authority’s recycling facility. (Photo: Tony Gibersonfirstname.lastname@example.org)
District 5 Commissioner Lane Lynchard said at the Dec. 12 meeting that he was working with the county’s public information office to develop outreach campaigns to educate the public on what is and isn’t acceptable for recycling bins.
“I think a big component of that is going to be brass tax: if this doesn’t work, we’re not going to be recycling in Santa Rosa County anymore,” Lynchard said. “If our residents are not responsible in what they put in their can … if the material they put into the recycling can is not acceptable to the ECUA, then recycling is going to go away.”
Hixson said he encouraged people to recycle metals, aluminum cans, clean cardboard and plastic bottles with “a neck,” like milk jugs or juice bottles that have been cleaned out.
Things that used to have a high yield in recycling, like newspapers, magazines, catalogues and mail, now have negative recycling values, though they’re still accepted at local recycling facilities as long as they’re clean.
But in the end, recycling just isn’t as lucrative of an industry as it used to be, and the national and international markets are dwindling quickly.
“It’s just a hard thing to get going and to keep it going, with the financials as bad as they are,” Hixson said.
District 4 Commissioner Dave Piech said he would be making videos and interacting with residents to teach them about clean recycling. If the new recycling program doesn’t go well, it may be the end for county recycling in the future.
“This is the Hail Mary, and we need everyone to participate,” he said.
Annie Blanks can be reached at email@example.com or 850-435-8632.
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