wplg logo

Broward faces a costly recycling crisis it needs to fix quickly

“It is hanging on by a thread,” County Commissioner Beam Furr said of Broward's recycling program. He has been leading the charge to overhaul how the county manages its waste.

Recycling in Broward County is in crisis, and the county is under the gun to fix it before it completely collapses.

“It is hanging on by a thread,” County Commissioner Beam Furr said. “Unfortunately.”

Furr, who represents District 6, has been leading the charge to overhaul how the county manages its waste, an urgent mission as more and more Broward cities have stopped traditional recycling.

“They’re being charged so much that many cities are rethinking doing recycling,” he said.

Davie, Coral Springs and Margate now incinerate their recyclables with their garbage at a plant that converts it into energy, a process many environmentalists say is nothing more than greenwashing.

“It emits toxic emissions when you burn plastic and it also creates a very small amount of energy for the waste that you’re burning,” said Catherine Uden of the nonprofit Oceana.

Furr agrees incineration is just a band-aid but says it’s better than putting all that garbage in the county’s two landfills that are quickly filling up, creating even more greenhouse gases. It’s a big problem that cities can’t solve on their own.

“Which is why the thinking of bringing all the cities together to then create recycling facilities ourselves,” Furr said.

Last year, Broward, created 4 million tons of garbage. The county is now studying what’s in that garbage, where it comes from, how much is recyclable and what it would cost them to create their own program and build their own facilities on land in west Pompano Beach that’s owned by the county and already zoned for trash.

“They’re looking at how can we do this better, how can we provide better disposal facilities, better recycling facilities that will work for the next 50 years,” Furr said.

Right now it’s a hodgepodge with cities doing their own thing to handle their recycling. Coral Springs and Deerfield Beach, for example no longer offer pick-up and have drop-off locations instead, catching some residents off-guard.

That can lead to fewer people recycling.

Other cities continue working with corporate giants like Waste Management, which processes recycling for 13 of Broward’s 31 cities at its plant in Pembroke Pines.

“They do have the largest recycling facility in the southeastern United States here in their backyard,” said Dawn McCormick of Waste Management Inc. of Florida. “We believe we can do it more efficiently and find markets. And do it at the most cost-effective for our Broward County residents.”

But ever since China stopped accepting U.S. plastic and paper recyclables in 2018, disrupting the nation’s recycling market, cities that were used to getting a rebate now have to pay and have seen their recycling rates double.

“Most waste in Broward County gets disposed of at about $42 a ton,” Furr said. “Most of what they wanting to charge for recycling is over $100 a ton. There’s a big gap there.”

Waste Management says one reason it has gotten more expensive is that many residents don’t know how to recycle, contaminating loads with things that don’t belong there — like old carpets, vacuum hoses, even an infant car seat.

Trash like that drives up processing costs and reduces revenue.

Of the 800 tons of collected recyclables that come into Waste Management’s facility per day, McCormick says up to 35% is garbage.

“It’s a huge problem,” she said. “It adds cost, it damages machinery and is dangerous for our workers.”

The desirables here are clean, dry, empty cardboard, paper, bottles and cans.

That’s not good enough for Furr.

“They’re not recycling everything,” he said. “That’s the thing. They are picking and choosing — and I don’t blame them — the things that they can make a profit out of.”

With global plastic production expected to double by 2040, Furr said the goal is for Broward to recycle 75% of its waste — if or when the county takes control.

“Even with good recycling, you’re only recycling 9-10% of the plastic right now,” he said. “We want to recycle everything we can recycle. ... We figure we can probably recycle 3 million tons a year. If it’s done right.”

Phillip Holste, Davie’s assistant town administrator, sent the following statement about the change to their recycling approach:

“Recycling has been at forefront of the Town of Davie’s waste discussions over the years as the worldwide recycling market has changed.  It has become increasingly difficult to find a vendor at a reasonable price to accept recyclables and the contamination of recyclable materials is a serious issue.  Municipalities are experiencing contamination rates of 40% and higher annually; resulting in those recyclables being landfilled.  These two areas significantly attributed to a change in our strategy for traditional recycling.  As a result, the Town transitioned to delivering its recycling to the waste-to-energy facility on State Road 7 where the recyclables are converted into electricity and this renewable energy is counted towards the State’s recycling goal. The Town is actively working with other Broward County municipalities and Broward County to establish a new recycling facility or identify a private facility that can provide the desired recycling services. We are looking to establish a facility that will provide recycling services at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer while not landfilling it.  Once this program is up and running, the traditional recycling program will be reimplemented.”

With many cities’ contracts with recyclers expiring in the next two years, the clock is ticking. Furr said he hopes to have a coalition formed by early 2022, with the construction of a county recycling facility complete by 2023.

In the meantime, we’re not going to recycle our way out of this crisis. It’s up to all of us to drastically reduce our waste, especially our plastic footprint.

And recycling properly is key. See the list of Dos and Don’ts below.

Recycling Dos and Dont’s

TOSS IT IN THE RECYCLING BIN:

  • Plastic water and beverage bottles,
  • Milk & water jugs,
  • Detergent, shampoo, liquid soap containers
  • Drink boxes, juice cartons and milk cartons
  • Glass (food & beverage containers only. Clear, green and brown glass only)
  • Aluminum cans and bottles
  • Other steel cans (food and beverage containers only)
  • Clean dry newspapers, magazines, catalogs, telephone books, printer paper, copier paper, mail and other office paper without wax liners
  • Cardboard packing boxes, cereal boxes, gift boxes and corrugated cardboard;
  • Remember to flatten all boxes before placing them in your bin

DON’T PLACE IN THE RECYCLE BIN:

  • NEVER Plastic bags.
  • Do not put your recyclables in plastic bags or put ANY loose plastic bags in the recycling.
  • NO plastic film or wrappings or dry cleaning bags.
  • NO plastic bags, cups, utensils and plates,
  • NO Paper or cardboard with liquid or food waste
  • NO Batteries
  • NO styrofoam products, egg cartons and trays,
  • NO margarine and butter tubs, yogurt cups, plastic hangers
  • NO glass products: light bulbs, mirrors, glass cookware or bakeware, or ceramics
  • NO wire coat hangers,
  • NO small appliances, microwave trays
  • NO Home chemicals like paints, pesticides, pool chemicals, fertilizers or other household hazardous waste
  • NO Garbage or food waste
  • NO gas tanks
  • NO rocks, dirt, building debris,
  • NO garden hoses
  • NO holiday lights or decorations
  • NO Medical waste or pharmaceuticals
  • NO Electronic waste and accessories
  • NO computer monitors, TVs, printer cartridges, keyboards, cell phones, CDs and DVDs
  • NO Textiles: clothes, shoes, bedding, pillows, etc.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre returned home to Miami and Local 10 in September 2017.