High contamination rates and rising recycling costs plagued Santa Rosa County, Florida, leading county commissioners to suspend its curbside recycling program last year. Nearly a year later, the county has negotiated a new hauling and recycling contract, agreeing to increased transportation and processing costs, with hopes to resume curbside recycling for more than 20,000 county residents by the beginning of February.
Previously, the county partnered with Emerald Coast Utilities Authority (ECUA) to transport Santa Rosa’s recyclables from the county’s central landfill to ECUA’s material recovery facility (MRF) at Perdido landfill in neighboring Escambia County for processing. Last year, ECUA raised processing fees at the MRF from $9 per ton to $46 per ton and eliminated its transportation services to Santa Rosa County, says Ron Hixson, the county’s environmental manager. According to ECUA, the MRF operator terminated its contract with Santa Rosa County because of the county's high contamination rates, which ranged from 30 to 40 percent.
The county recently has negotiated a new contract with ECUA, agreeing to a “variable processing fee,” which starts at $46 per ton with an option to increase to $56 per ton, and a new agreement with hauler WPR Inc. to transport recyclables from the county's landfill to ECUA’s facility for $500 per trip, Hixson says.
“Between getting the new contract with Emerald Coast and getting the hauling transportation worked out, it’s taken us almost a year to start recycling again,” he says.
Santa Rosa County contracts with Longwood, Florida-based Waste Pro USA to collect waste, recyclables and yard waste, hauling the material to the county’s central landfill. Hixson says the county now charges a $40 per ton tipping fee at the landfill to accept single-stream recycling, whereas before there wasn’t a cost. He says even with the tipping fee, the costs of recycling for the county will go up to $350,000 per year to “keep recycling.”
Hixson says the county collected and recycled 7,600 tons of recyclables in 2018. ECUA has rejected contaminated loads and charged the county $250 per load, “plus we have to pay disposal fees at the Perdido landfill, which is $45 per ton, so that costs us even more money,” Hixson says.
While recycling will resume in the county, challenges still lie ahead. To combat contamination, the county is launching a $10,000 education campaign around contamination in 2020, which includes flyers, door hangers, magnets and "Don't trash your recycling" social media advertisements “to get people to understand that not everything is recyclable.”
Hixson says he also hopes to work with the processing facility to reduce the list of acceptable materials in the recycling program to reduce curbside contamination.
“I think you need to do that,” Hixson says. “I think you need to get back to saying, ‘We have a market for aluminum. We have a market for plastics No. 1 and No. 2,’ and say that’s all we’re going to take. Mixed paper is recyclable, but if there’s not a market for it, what good is it to collect it, send it a place and then turn around and send it to the landfill.”