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Subscription Service Recycling May Help Santa Rosa's Sanitation Woes

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Santa Rosa County
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Recycling in Santa Rosa County has been a complicated issue for almost two years. Now, with a new subscription-based recycling program, the county’s environmental supervisor, Andrew Hill, says he’s optimistic this approach will lead to better recycling habits.

“While I understand that this approach could reduce the total amount of recyclable products that we receive, I believe that the quality of our recyclables will increase,” Hill said in an email. “Being able to send the (Emerald Coast Utilities Authority) a quality product should assist them in marketing and selling the product thereby assisting to sustain their operations for the long term.”

Starting Jan. 1, Waste Pro customers in the north end of the county started their subscription-based recycling program. The new program offers a weekly recycling pickup for an additional $27 per quarter. On April 1, south-end Santa Rosa County residents will begin the subscription service. Residents will receive new, 96-gallon garbage and yard waste containers for weekly pickup. Yard waste containers can also be used for excess garbage. South end residents can sign up for recycling by calling Waste Pro at 365-1900. 

Since the new program started less than a month ago, Hill said county staff has seen an improvement in recycling hauls as they collect items at the recycling transfer station and load up a semi-trailer to be sent to the ECUA facility in Escambia County. 

“The recycling that has been coming in has been much cleaner and less contaminated than previously,” he said. “We anticipate that it will be even cleaner as we implement the subscription service in the south end of the county in the coming months.” 

Recycling contamination occurs when materials aren’t sorted or cleaned properly. One greasy pizza box can contaminate an entire load. Last year, Hill said they’d seen everything from garden hoses to child car seats thrown in bins.

This new subscription service comes more than year after ECUA canceled Santa Rosa’s recycling program. On April 30, 2019, they canceled, citing high contamination rates and low market values on recycled material. After negotiation, recycling resumed in January 2020, but under the new agreement, ECUA would not haul recyclables to their facility. 

Milton-based septic tank manufacturer WPR has been hauling the county’s recyclables to ECUA. At the Santa Rosa County commissioner meeting on Jan. 21, Hill said 180 loads were transported to ECUA in 2020 for a cost of $90,000. WPR continues to haul the recycling on a month-to-month basis. 

“We hauled 2,500 tons to ECUA in 2020,” Hill told commissioners. “(With a subscription service) that would be cut in half, or at least a quarter.” 

At last week’s meeting, Santa Rosa County Administrator Dan Schebler said the county continues to keep in contact with ECUA. Commissioner Bob Cole he’d like to know how much of the county’s recycling is actually getting recycled. 

“It only takes one bad apple to spoil the barrel,” he said. 

There’s still a lot of “unknowns,” said Hill. 

So far, about 1,300 out of 27,000 north-end Waste Pro customers have signed up for recycling. Since residents can sign up at any time, Hill said he anticipates that the participation rate will increase. 

But until then, more garbage may be heading to the landfill. 

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Credit Santa Rosa County
A pile of recycled materials at the Santa Rosa County recycling transfer center.

Milton resident Dana Carley was one of many residents who did not opt in for recycling. 

“We got the new carts and a letter later that said (recycling) was extra if you want it,” she said. “I would opt in if there was no additional charge. My cost went up being forced to switch service (from ECUA) and recycling was included before.” 

Carley said it’s too much to keep up with recycling on her own, but she does recycle bottles from her Rodan + Fields products through the recycling program TerraCycle. 

North-end residents also have the choice of Adams Sanitation, which does not offer recycling at this time, but according to its website, the company plans to offer an optional recycling program in the first quarter of 2021 for $6 a month with pickup service every other week. 

Milton resident Nikki Hedrick moved to the area in late 2020 and signed up for Adams without knowing there was another option. 

“I’m bummed recycling isn’t an option,” she said. “Sadly, I’m used to it not being an option as it really isn’t an option in Walton County either. I’m hopeful it will change and I’m definitely looking into options that we can add to our household routine to be better stewards in the meantime.”