Today is America Recycles Day.
You may run into some grumbling if you bring up recycling in Florida these days. The city of Clearwater was forced to reimburse residents after an investigation revealed recyclables were being sent to a solid waste facility with the trash. At least six municipalities have shut down their recycling program citing rising costs and limited markets for recycled materials. Meanwhile landfills are running out of space. Local leaders need help, and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has outlined a strategy to get recycling back on track. All they need is the green light from legislators.
In honor of America Recycles Day, let’s take a look at Florida’s recycling goals and a proposed bill designed to bring life back to the program.
Why Recycling Matters
Our 2021 report Trash in America found that Americans throw out 4.9 pounds of trash per person every day — that’s nearly 1,800 pounds of materials per American every year.
All of that trash is either ending up as litter in our environment, incinerated (creating harmful air pollution), or clogging our landfills. It costs taxpayers money to get rid of all of that trash. It also represents a huge waste in resources – a lot of the trash is perfectly reusable material – but we need effective ways to reuse and recycle what we have.
How Florida Measures Up
In 2008 the legislature set a goal for a recycling rate of 75% by 2020. However, Florida’s recycling rate was only at about 50% in 2020. Without programmatic and legislative support to meet the ambitious goals set out by the state, some municipalities have given up and scrapped their recycling programs.
It Can Be Done
Is a 75% recycle rate too high? Not for three Florida counties. Pinellas, Charlotte and Lee counties all achieved that goal according to the DEP. These counties provide hope that with the right leadership, recycling is achievable in Florida. But most local leaders need program and funding help from the state.
One Solution: Senate Bill 36
When Florida failed to meet the 2020 goal, the DEP produced a report recommending the 2022 legislature create policies that focus on three strategies:
- Development of markets for recycled materials
- Education and outreach
- Funding and incentives to support local government recycling efforts
The report spurred Senator Linda Stewart to introduce a bill giving the DEP the directive it needs to implement those strategies. Senate Bill 36 directs the DEP to develop a comprehensive waste reduction and recycling plan by July of 2025. The plan must create new recycling goals for the state, develop a way to implement strategies on education and outreach and provide recycling assistance to local governments. The plan must also include the development and promotion of markets for recycled materials. The bill currently sits in several committees and still needs co-sponsors. Now is the perfect time to write to your state senators and ask them to support and co-sponsor Senate Bill 36.
What else can we do
The first step is to use less, and reuse whatever we can. We can all do our part to avoid waste.
The second step is to use fewer materials that simply can’t be recycled. Most plastics simply can’t be recycled effectively. So we’re calling on companies like Amazon to phase out plastic packaging.
The third step is to avoid chemical recycling, which is not a solution. It’s not even really recycling.
No one likes seeing litter on the side of the road, a landfill in their backyard, or an incinerator belching toxic smoke into our air. On America Recycles Day, let’s recommit to our recycling goals for a more beautiful Florida.
Advocate, Environment Florida
Mia is focused on fighting for clean waterways, protecting Florida’s environmentally sensitive areas, advocating for stronger wildlife protections and reducing plastic pollution on our beaches. Mia lives in the Tampa Bay area and loves taking her family on nature adventures.