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New Waste Management facility brings more recycling options to Northwest Florida


A new Waste Management recycling facility opening next month in Fort Walton Beach could be a game changer for recycling in Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties.

Okaloosa County Commissioners voted unanimously last week to terminate their contract with Emerald Coast Utilities Authority (ECUA) and enter into a contract with Waste Management to handle recycling in the county.

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Waste Management broke ground on the $30 million state-of-the-art recycling facility in April 2023 with the promise to process 120,000 tons per year of single-stream, source-separated recyclables. Okaloosa County Public Works Director Jason Autrey said the Fort Walton Beach facility will save customers money by not having to haul recyclables to ECUA’s facility in Cantonment.

“We’ve got it broken into a two-phase approach,” explained Autrey at Tuesday’s meeting. “The first is what we’ve dubbed the break-in period. This is a dollar-for-dollar match in terms of the processing fee. Currently, we pay ECUA $60 per ton … the big difference is we no longer have to pay the hauling cost. Currently, we pay about $91 per ton. After we get through the six-month break-in period, we will enter into a blended-value approach where we will actually get a rebate back for selling the recyclable commodity.”

The market for recyclables is good right now, said Autrey.

“In fact, if we were to take the numbers we have today, it would be at $56 per ton,” he said.

RELATED: The recycling game is back on, do you know the rules?

In the three-year contract, the contamination rate is scheduled to reduce from 25% to 20% to 15% or be subject to fees. Contamination has been the reason for pauses in service in Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Escambia Counties with ECUA in the past. In October, the City of Pensacola canceled curbside pickup because of contamination rates.

A rendering of the new Waste Management recycling facility in Fort Walton Beach.
Waste Management
A rendering of the new Waste Management recycling facility in Fort Walton Beach.

There will be a coordinated education campaign between Waste Management, the county, and the Keep Okaloosa Beautiful committee. Commissioner Nathan Boyles, who is also the owner of Adams Sanitation, knows the struggles of contamination with single-stream recycling — that’s when all recyclable materials go into one bin.

Boyles expressed his concern about keeping contamination rates low. Even those with good intentions may be sending items to the landfill — it’s called wishcycling. There are also people who intentionally use recycling bins as a second trash can.

“You’re not going to be able to educate your way out of that,” he said.

Truck drivers will have the greatest control of contamination, added Boyles, and will need to be vigilant about what gets thrown into the truck.

RELATED: Pensacola to roll out 'smart trash cans'

“We want to partner with the county and code enforcement to figure out contamination,” said Michael Beedie, senior manager of government affairs at Waste Management.

Beedie noted that while serving as city manager of Fort Walton Beach, there was an audit of recycling contamination. There was a 30-35% contamination rate in the city — 12% was bagged material. Plastic bags are one of the biggest contributors to contamination, even in the West Coast where recycling is part of resident culture, according to a 2019 study.

RELATED: 'We've Got To Do Better:' Okaloosa Commissioners Address Recycling Woes (2019)

Statewide, municipalities are working to better educate and encourage proper recycling habits. In 2008, the Florida Legislature established a statewide recycling goal of 75% by 2020, but the rate that year was only 50%. It dropped to 49% in 2021 and 48% in 2022.

Santa Rosa County has had ongoing conversations with Waste Management about hauling and processing recycling services, said Tanya Linzy, assistant environmental director. While no commitments have been made to switch from ECUA to Waste Management, Linzy did note the new facility will be beneficial to the area by promoting a “higher percentage of recyclable materials in the area being processed and not landfilled.”

In the City of Pensacola, the mayor noted last week that two companies — Adams Sanitation and WastePro — will be giving oral presentations on May 22 to provide curbside recycling for city residents. Curbside recycling ended in October 2023 due to high contamination rates. Residents committed to recycling have been bringing their materials to drop-off sites.

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.