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Alachua County Commissioners Board Meets to Boost Recycling Percentages

Bales of recyclable waste sit outside of the Leveda Brown Environmental Park in Gainesville. Alachua County Commissioners recently discussed more efficient plans to deal with the waste.
Bales of recyclable waste sit outside of the Leveda Brown Environmental Park in Gainesville. Alachua County Commissioners recently discussed more efficient plans to deal with the waste.

The Alachua County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday to discuss how to improve the county’s recycling programs, but won’t make any decisions until October or November.

The board was joined by Alachua's County's Waste Management Director Sally Palmi and Locklear & Associates’ President John Locklear to consider how the county could achieve Florida’s goal of recycling 75 percent of its waste by 2020.

Since the goal was established by House Bill 7135 in 2008, Alachua County went from recycling just 29 percent of its waste to recycling 58 percent, Locklear said. Alachua is one of Florida’s top five counties with the highest recycling rates, but it still has a long way to go, he said.

“It’s sort of a universal goal, not just for Alachua County but for all Americans, to try to slow down our consumption to maximize the amount of our natural resources,” he said.

To boost its recycling percentages, Palmi and Locklear presented the commissioners with four viable options for updating its waste facilities and recover reusable materials more efficiently. Currently, the county's waste is taken to New River Regional Landfill. The county’s pre-sorted recyclables are fed through a dual-stream materials recovery facility, a system that sorts the items into more specific categories of plastic, paper and other materials before crushing them and preparing them to be marketed, Locklear said.

But not everyone recycles, even when the option is available. Locklear said 30 percent of Alachua’s waste--which currently goes to the landfill--is paper.

“That’s just staggering because that’s a recyclable material,” District One Commissioner Mike Byerly said.

Although not all paper can be recycled, it does show that a large percentage of reusable products are being wasted. In 2013, about 71,000 tons of the 180,000 tons of trash which were landfilled could have been recycled, Locklear said.

Locklear and Palmi aim to fix this problem. Their proposals varied with cost, efficiency and capabilities, but Locklear said he recommended a hybrid plan that will use both a mixed-waste materials recovery facility, which sorts recyclable materials from trash, and a dual-stream materials recovery facility. The hybrid solution is estimated to recycle 72 percent of the county’s waste, Locklear said.

To get to the desired 75 percent, they’ll have to focus on recycling organic materials, which currently make up 18 percent of the waste Alachua sends to landfills.

The most popular way of doing this is by composting, he said. Ninety-three percent of recycling programs across America use this method, but the board may also consider anaerobic digestion, the process of using liquids to break down and generate electricity in the absence of oxygen.

Considerable money has been put aside to expand the program, much of which comes from service fees, franchise fees and recycling sales revenue, Palmi said.

Over the next couple months, a list of evaluative factors for the program, such as the number of employees and potential greenhouse gas emissions, will be created and submitted to the board for review in October, Palmi said. The board will also review a preliminary request for proposal, a solicitation that will allow organic businesses to submit logistics about their company for potential partnership.

“There’s always new things coming,” Palmi said. “Our industry is ever-evolving on resource recovery, and it’s our responsibility to do it and do it right.”

Kortney is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.