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A new recycle site opens in Pensacola

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It's a new chapter in the story of recycling in the city of Pensacola.

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Curbside pick-up of recyclables in the city ended on October 1. City officials say the main reason was a lot of the stuff people were putting in their cans to recycle was not recyclable.

“For the last seven years, at least, 50% of what was going in our recycling cans was contaminated. (It) was trash. Not recyclable, just straight trash,” said Pensacola Mayor D.C. Reeves.

The mayor says part of the problem is some people have a lot of garbage, and purchasing a second trashcan from the city costs $22 a month.

“So what happened? We as a community, not everyone, we as a community treated our recycling cans, especially for the last seven years, as a second garbage can.”

Nationwide, the market for recyclables has cratered over the past few years, and the city found that there were no buyers for many items that were technically recyclable. So they still ended up in the landfill. Add in the fact that the cost for recycling was rising and the city’s budget needed to be finalized, a decision needed to be made.

“The easy thing for a mayor to do, an elected official to do would be nothing”, said Reeves. “I know it’s certainly been bothersome to people, it’s unpopular because you’re taking away something people are used to. It causes anxiety and I totally understand that. But, in the end, what you’re going to have is a recycling opportunity that is helping the environment. And isn’t that why we’re all doing it? Isn’t that why we are all recycling? That when it leaves our curb it’s doing something good for the environment? We could not confidently in any way say that in the previous form of recycling.”

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Mayor Reeves says the city will continue to look at all options for restarting curbside recycling, but in the meantime, they are starting a weekly program where residents can drop off recyclables every Saturday at 2759 North Palafox Street. “It’s just north of Leonard Street, and if you’re familiar (with the area), we have our fleet management there, our public works office there, our sanitation office there. We’ll have people there to help you get your recycling out, and we are only taking these core four items. We’re only taking (No. 1) PET plastics, which is your detergent bottles and your milk jugs. We’re taking No. 2 plastics which is your 2 liters, your 20-ounce (plastic soda) bottles, that kind of plastic. We’re taking steel and aluminum cans. And we’re taking broken-down, clean cardboard. Not greasy pizza boxes or anything like that, just the broken down cardboard.”

For the time being, the city will not be accepting glass or paper at that drop-off site. Although that may change in the future if a market for those items can be found. In the meantime, the city wants to gauge the level of interest in recycling by the number of people who show up at the drop-off site and the type of materials they bring to recycle. Then they can work on the next chapter of recycling in Pensacola.

“What everyone agrees on, every expert, no one can refute that the old way of picking up everything that’s recyclable is now completely obsolete”, said Mayor Reeves. “Everyone agrees on that. How we now move forward on the new project is do we do opt-in at the curb, to allow everyone to do it, but then does that cause contamination? What I’m hoping for in our new 2.0 of recycling is that whatever we do, that we are able to get some good, digestible data. Because if we are going to go through this and we are going to pick up these (recycle bins at the curb), we want to make sure that we’ve got sound data that shows that we’re making an impact.”

The new recycling drop-off site at 2759 N. Palafox Street will be open this and every Saturday from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. The city of Pensacola will also continue to operate a recycling drop-off site at 2750 Summit Blvd. next to Fire Station 3, which is open all day, seven days a week. That site will continue to accept glass and paper materials.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.