Despite a mandatory commercial recycling ordinance in Gainesville, many bars in midtown are not recycling, and they are not being asked to.
“We tried in the past, and we failed miserably,” said Bobby Coleman, a consultant with Fat Daddy’s and Rowdy Reptile.
Rowdy Reptile and Fat Daddy’s aren’t the only ones throwing out their recyclables. Employees at Copper Monkey, Tatu and Cantina all said they are, too.
Gainesville city waste manager Steve Joplin said the city is split up among four inspectors who are in charge of informing businesses if they need to recycle. The ordinance states that if an inspector finds that cardboard or other items such as aluminum, glass, and plastic make up 15 percent of the trash, that business will be issued a warning.
On first warning, a business has 30 days to comply and show it is taking steps to make sure recycling bins are in place. If the warning doesn’t work, there are financial consequences.
“The first citation is for $125. Repeat violations can be up to $500,” Joplin said.
Since the ordinance’s enactment in 2014, the Solid Waste Division has only written one civil citation for non-compliance. It was to Ghengis Grill, which is now closed.
According to the department, 169 commercial violations have been written, but with no fines.
When comparing citations to the current state of the businesses that received them, it appears they have fixed the violations.
Checks are irregular, so what an inspector sees may not be typical of what a business throws away. It all depends on if they show up the day after a stock order or after a typical day of work.
“It’s a crap shoot,” said Patrick Irby, waste alternatives manager for Alachua County. “It’s always if you show up on the right day, but our goal is not to catch people in the act. It’s to gain compliance.”
Coleman said he doesn’t think it would be that difficult to get people to recycle. If there were enough space and if his bars were open until 3:00 or 4:00 A.M., they may be more likely to comply with ordinance, but at this point they have not been asked to.
“It’s kind of like monkey see, monkey do,” said Coleman. “It’d be really easy to start training them [customers] to do that.”
Coleman said his bar only recycles about 20-30% of their recyclables, and that’s their cardboard, not their bottles and cans.
Despite having bins out back, representatives from downtown bars said they don’t recycle.
“If the business owner has a recycling hauler’s bins behind their business, they are paying for the service and not utilizing the bins,” an inspector said.
Just having the bin is not the purpose of the ordinance. In the job description sent by Joplin, inspectors are “expected to be proactive and seek out violations on their own initiative.”
If caught by an inspector, it would be a violation to throw away those recyclables, assuming the cans and bottles from a bar make up 15 percent of their waste.
There are things about the ordinance that could be improved, Irby said. He says businesses would at least break even on costs if they were to add the recycling bins, because it would reduce the amount of garbage pick-ups needed.
Irby said city and county officials are getting together to discuss what works – and what doesn’t – in order to write stronger ordinances.