Two Shades of Green

Features - Municipal Recycling

The state of Florida is considering the environmental and economic benefits of achieving a statewide 75 percent recycling rate.

April 28, 2010

Mitch Kessler, the head of Florida-based Kessler Consulting Inc. (KCI), recently helped lead a team that produced a report titled, The Greening of Florida: A Solid Waste Management Roadmap.

Kessler says the report provides a recommended strategy for achieving a 75 recycling rate in the Sunshine State. In developing the report and recommended strategies during a two-year period, KCI says it took “an extensive look at numerous states with ‘high-performing’ recycling programs. Policies and programs that helped these states achieve success were identified and their potential applicability in Florida evaluated.”

Recycling Today Editor-in-Chief Brian Taylor recently interviewed Kessler about the report and the potential future of recycling in Florida.

Recycling Today (RT): How would Florida’s (or any state’s) economy benefit from reaching a 75 percent recycling rate?

Mitch Kessler (MK): Everything we’ve seen in the studies is that there are more jobs created by the collection, processing and manufacturing [of recyclables] into new materials than in disposing of waste. We think that … a higher recycling rate leads to more jobs.

RT: What are some of the examples of successful programs and strategies that you have highlighted in your study?

Funding Sources in High-Performing States

• Disposal Surcharges
• Unredeemed Bottle Bill
• Advanced Recovery Fees (ARFs)
• Special Fees or Taxes
• Product Stewardship Fees
• General Fund

MK: We looked initially at 15 states, the high-performing states, and tried to identify what in these 15 states makes them higher-performing. We narrowed that list down to eight to study more closely: California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin.

What we found in each of those states was one clear, common theme: Public policy driven by the state set the tone, the approach and the goals. There was a public policy driver but not necessarily a long list of rules. We found that there was no one right answer, but Florida or any state could take program components.

We identified a number of factors that are important. One thing was having meaningful goals. …When we say meaningful, that means if the goal is tied into funding or if it is tied into permitting, then the goal becomes meaningful—it has consequences. So if part of what I have to do to get a new landfill cell is increase my recycling rate, that is meaningful and has consequences.

Another important part is funding. These programs, we believe, require funding. What we did is look at how these states are doing this, and there are five or six different ways, including a disposal surcharge added at the disposal site. This could be a charge per ton at landfills or at waste-to-energy sites. Unredeemed bottle bill deposits also can create a pool of money that can be used by states to fund recycling programs. Advanced recovery fees (ARFs) on tires, batteries and other products can generate money that can go into waste reduction and recycling.

RT: Have you identified any themes or incentives and disincentives some of these programs have in common, such as disposal surcharges or bans?

MK: It’s really a question of how these things fit into your individual state. If there is one thing we found that is the predominant feature, it’s the meaningful goals and funding—those are the two critical pieces.

When I make this presentation, I show a list of common traits or programs in the high-performing states. And some combination of these items is used in every high-performing state. If you say, “No,” to more than a couple of these, there is no way to double your recycling rate. What we found is if you don’t want a bottle bill, a disposal ban, a C&D recycling program or an organics recycling program, you can’t say no to all of these and get a high recycling rate.

In Florida, where I made this presentation to the solid waste industry, I couldn’t get more than one-third of the room to agree to any of these. If they can’t agree, I don’t see how we go from 28 percent to 75 percent.

Policies/Programs in High-Performing States

• Meaningful Goals
• Disposal Bans
• Bottle Bills
• Funding
• C&D Debris Recycling
• Organics Recovery
• Market Development
• Technical Assistance

• Infrastructure Development
• State-of-the-Art Systems
• Commercial Recycling
• Producer Responsibility
• Recycling Incentives

The other key decisions involve funding sources. There are the six common methods we identified. Some states only have one of those methods, but many have a combination. And it’s the same concept: If you say “no” to all six of these, you can’t double your recycling rate—there is no way to fund it.

In that same group of people from the solid waste industry, I couldn’t get more than one-third to agree to any of these. So what we really have, then, is setting a target with nothing behind it.

RT: To what extent do state governments need to exercise direct control over recycling programs to reach a 75 percent level or to what extent can they leave responsibility with counties and cities?

MK: I think the state government needs to be the policy driver. It should set the goals and policies; but, then, leave it to local governments as to how to achieve those state requirements. In Florida, we should set that goal and have it be meaningful. Put policy options in place, but let local governments decide which policies to adopt and how to reach the goal. Some might choose to emphasize C&D, another organics recycling.

RT: What materials in particular seem to offer the easiest or best opportunities to be diverted from the landfill?

MK: The obvious ones in Florida’s waste stream, and probably nationally, are not bottles and cans—that’s only 6 percent. But paper and C&D make up 25 percent each, and organics 16 percent. That’s where the real tons are. We think focusing on the fiber stream, on C&D and on yard waste is a way to achieve these higher goals. There are [also] a lot of uncollected recyclables in the commercial stream.

Another issue involves data accuracy. Numbers that come from Florida can be different from those from Wisconsin, and I respect that. Wisconsin has put disposal bans on some materials. After those bans had been in place three-to-five years, that can make circumstances and results very different. And Florida asks commercial enterprises to report their data only if they are a certain size—that can provide an incomplete picture.

RT: How do you hope that Florida or any other state will follow up on this report?

MK: We think we’ve identified some of these key policy and program components. So it’s taking those and figuring out which ones fit into your state’s and then your local government’s needs. If you look at those eight high-performing states, they have the majority of these in place. Five have bottle bills, all have a funding mechanism, several have disposal bans and the majority of them have meaningful goals. If you’re really serious about a goal of 60 percent or higher, you have to be serious about organics and you have to be serious about C&D recycling.

Everybody wants to do more, but what we heard back from people is they don’t know how to make it happen. It takes a political champion to drive it, or it’s not going to go anywhere.

Many local governments rely on disposal-based funding. In the next 10 years, you’re going to see new financial models develop so that tons diverted is the revenue source. That’s a paradigm shift that’s a coming attraction—it’s not here yet. 

Mitch Kessler is head of Tampa, Fla.-based Kessler Consulting Inc. and can be contacted at