After a nine-month hiatus, Santa Rosa County’s recycling program will resume the first week of February. And officials are urging residents to “Get Back to Basics” when it comes to their recycling habits.
“Focus on recycling simple items like clean cardboard, aluminum and steel cans, and plastic bottles and jugs,” said Andrew Hill, Santa Rosa County environmental supervisor, in an email.
The county’s recycling program was canceled by the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority April 30, 2019, siting high contamination rates and low market values on recycled material.
Something as simple as a greasy pizza box, or a plastic bag, can contaminate an entire load, which is then sent to the landfill.
“A greasy pizza box or a piece of recycling contaminated with food matter mixes with clean recyclable materials, and if a clean piece of recycling gets grease or food waste on it, it is then deemed contaminated,” said Hill.
Plastic bags get caught in processing machines, which causes the entire facility to be shut down, Hill said. But Hill said the bigger issue is what’s called “wish-cycling,” where well-intentioned people throw plastics away without checking to see if it’s accepted.
“Just because things are simply made out of plastic doesn’t mean it’s recyclable,” said Hill. “We would get everything from garden hoses, plastic blinds, to child car seats, and we simply had residents that were using their recycling container as a second garbage can.”
For years, the U.S. sold recycled materials to China, which would then be used to make new products. According to an NPR article, the U.S. exported 700,000 tons of recycled materials to China alone. In 2018, China started to cut back on nearly all trash imports, taking less than 1% of its 2016 total.
In 2018, the county sent approximately 650 tons of recycling to ECUA a month, which means approximately 5,850 tons of recycling has been sent to the landfill since the program was suspended. To avoid another suspension, Hill said the county is working to educate residents through marketing materials, TV and radio ads, and a social media campaign.
So what items should you put in your recycling can? The answer is clean cardboard, plastic bottles and jugs, and aluminum and steel cans (but not pet food cans because they contain a plastic lining that makes them un-recyclable). Don’t throw Styrofoam, juice boxes or tin foil in there either. You can find a full list of dos and don’ts at ecua.fl.gov/green/recycling.
And if you’re confused, just err on the side of caution.
“Minimizing contamination is the key,” said Hill. “When in doubt, throw it out.”