By Amanda Furrer
Ever dream of immortality? Health fad after health fad, we empty jars of anti-aging cream and bottles of mail-order cleanses with the hopes of adding a decade onto our lifetimes while erasing tell-tale wrinkles. The irony of our mad scramble to become immortal is the sad truth that the plastic bottle of promised youth serum on your nightstand will remain in a landfill for hundreds of years.
The longevity of waste is astounding and, in the broad scope, terrifying. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, we’ll be outlived by our garbage.
Marine Debris Timeline : Tin can: 50 years / Aluminum can: 200 years / Plastic bottle: 450 years
Even more staggering is the amount of trash Americans generate in a single year: 250 million tons. But facts and figures also show that we’re trying our best to downsize the gargantuan piles of waste. In 2010, 85 million tons of trash were recycled and composted.
One way to encourage recycling is to make it easier and more accessible. This past April, the City of Ocala finally launched a curbside recycling program. Ocalans can now decrease their carbon footprint at home by tossing bottles and papers into a convenient can for weekly pickup. It’s that simple.
“Why Doesn’t Ocala Really Recycle?”
Back in 2008, Ocala Style covered the absence of curbside recycling in our article provocatively titled, “Why Doesn’t Ocala Really Recycle?” The question itself sounded baffling and heinous, especially when neighboring cities like Gainesville, Mount Dora and even The Villages had a curbside recycling service at the time. The main reason for Ocala not hopping onto the curbside bandwagon was the expense. Residential customers would have had to pay an additional $2.50 to $4.50 monthly charge for the service. It would take four years for the city to find a resolution and bring curbside recycling to a neighborhood near you.
“The technology of single-stream recycling has made curbside recycling more feasible,” says Catherine Cameron, assistant city manager for public services with the City of Ocala. “With single-stream recycling, all of the materials can go into one container instead of separating them into several separate containers. Fewer containers allow us to save time and money.”
On October 3, 2011, a curbside recycling RFP—that’s Request for Proposal—was posted at city hall. Later, a selection committee of eight members reviewed the proposal and presented their findings in December before the city council.
The plan was a win-win. By cutting down trash pickup to once a week and replacing the second day with curbside recycling, the initiative would be less costly for the city and free for its residents. With the new program, Ocala saves approximately $11,000 per month, which is the cost of using a landfill (more proof that there’s a figurative and very literal price to pay when it comes to dumping your garbage). When you visit the program’s website, the logo counters our 2008 article’s question with five simple words: “The City of Ocala Recycles.”
Calling in the Pros
The MVP of Ocala’s curbside recycling service is solid waste company Waste Pro. Founded in 2001, the company services the southeastern United States, sending out their fleet of 1,400 trucks to over 1.8 million residential and 38,000 commercial customers. In Florida, Waste Pro services 61 of 67 counties.
When curbside carts are emptied by Waste Pro, the material is sorted by automated machines and manual handlers and then sent to Putnam and Volusia Counties for processing. Waste Pro hopes to eventually build a local material recovery facility here in Ocala. After processing, the materials are purchased by companies for repurposing and reusing.
According to Waste Pro Division Manager Gerald “Jerry” Lourenco, Ocala’s residents have been cooperative and even enthusiastic about curbside recycling since its launch.
“Ocala produces 70 to 75 tons [of recycled materials] per week,” says Jerry. “The rate of participation by residents has been excellent, and the city has done an exceptional job in providing information and educating residents on the program, which has contributed to its success.”
Still, there have been some roadblocks along the way. Back in June, it was reported that loads of recyclable material were rejected by a Citrus County processor because of moisture and contamination. The loads were eventually trucked to a landfill in Georgia. (Veolia ES Solid Waste Southeast, Inc., transports Ocala’s curbside trash to a Georgia landfill.)
Catherine refers to June’s contaminated loads as “an isolated incident,” but it still begs the question on what could have been done to prevent this episode.
A contaminated load is when non-recyclable materials are intermixed with recyclable materials or when the materials contain food or chemical residue.
“Many contaminated loads can be prevented by carefully sorting recycling materials and household garbage into their respective containers and by thoroughly rinsing and cleaning recyclables prior to putting them in carts,” says Jerry.
Rinsing and cleaning materials will also prevent carts from attracting outside pests.
Continue the Cycle
Putting June’s incident aside, Ocala has significantly cleaned up its act when it comes to trash. By the year 2020, Ocala plans to increase its recycling of solid waste—presently 24 percent—to 75 percent.
“To date, Ocala residents are participating at above the average rate,” says Catherine. “We are extremely pleased with the participation and enthusiasm throughout the community.”
Marion County is also pledging progress in the war against waste. Ranked 10th statewide in recycling, the county launched a new feature at recycling centers this past September.
“Residents [had] to separate their recyclables into plastics, glass items, cardboard and other categories and dispose of them in separate bins at the recycling centers,” says Elaine DeIorio McClain, public information specialist of Marion County Office of Public Information. “All items can be disposed of together in one container at the recycling centers, making it easier and safer for residents to recycle.”
But just how effective is recycling in the long run?
“Very effective,” Jerry concedes. “Every ton recycled equals a ton not being buried in a landfill.”
Consider this: Every ton of recycled plastic saves 7.4 cubic yards of space in a landfill.
Jerry continues, “By disposing less, we are utilizing renewable resources, which all equal a better environment for future generations.”
Recycling also creates more jobs: Incinerating 10,000 tons of waste creates one job; landfilling 10,000 tons of waste creates six jobs; recycling 10,000 tons of waste creates 36 jobs. Taking a stomp on that soda can or pizza box and wheeling out your cart to Waste Pro is a small part you can play in helping your community.
So remember, recycling a jar of youth cream is a small step in creating a sustainable future for ourselves and our planet. A cleaner environment equals less worry lines.