Working on a roadmap toward better recycling

When Gov. Charlie Crist signed The Energy, Climate Change, and Economic Security Act of 2008 into law this past summer, he established a statewide recycling goal of 75 percent, to be achieved by the year 2020. It’s a realistic goal, Crist said. After all, Floridians are already well on their way to hitting that mark, with a current statewide recycling rate of 25 percent and 12 years to make improvements.

But in the Keys, where the recycling rate is about 6 percent, activists, policymakers, business owners and concerned residents realize there’s no time to waste. To get the recycling ball rolling, plans are being finalized for a November summit that will bring key players together to discuss strategies for meeting the state mandate.

All options are open for discussion, organizers say, including Key West’s goal of implementing a compost program and its plan to make recycling mandatory in early 2009.

The summit, which is being organized by Keyswide nonprofit Green Living and Energy Education as part of its Keyswide Sustain-Ability Project, will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 6 in the county commissioner’s conference room at the Marathon Government Center, 2798 Overseas Highway.

GLEE president Alison Higgins said the meeting, billed as an “R4 Summit,” since its focus is on reducing, reusing, recycling and rotting (or composting) waste, offers attendees the chance to learn more about recycling and to develop a clear, cohesive approach to reducing their negative impact on the environment.

“The timing is perfect for us to provide help and assistance to local governments and policy makers,” Higgins said. “Governor Crist is calling for an increase in recycling, and he has set a goal of achieving a 75 percent waste diversion rate statewide by the year 2020. Right now the state’s recycling mandate is 20 percent, but in the Keys we’re under double digits. We clearly have a lot of catching up to do.”

Un-recycled waste generated in the Keys is hauled to Broward County, where most of it is burned at a Waste Management-run incinerator — what’s known as a waste-to-energy plant, because it generates power that’s then sold to Florida Power & Light. According to Monroe County Public Works director Dent Pierce, nearly 95,000 tons of solid waste was trucked from the county’s transfer stations to the mainland from Oct. 1, 2007, to Sept. 30, 2008. That tonnage does not include waste hauled from Key West, which generated around 54,000 tons last year, said Annalise Mannix, Key West’s engineering services manager.

Summit attendees are to hear from Monroe County administrator Roman Gastesi and representatives from each of the county’s five city and village governments about how they intend to help reduce that tonnage and beef up their jurisdictions’ respective recycling rates.

The city of Key West representative should have no trouble filling his or her allotted five minutes of speaking time. Mannix said summit attendees will hear about Key West’s application for a Florida Department of Environmental Protection grant that, if approved, would provide $200,000 to help the city set up an aerobic composting system worth more than $500,000. GLEE members helped the city prepare the grant proposal.

Mannix said the city would pick up kitchen scrap from multi-family housing units in the city and transport it to the composter, where it would be chopped, mixed with yard debris and composted. The resulting rich, organic soil amendment would then be given away to residents.

“We’re paying to haul all that waste 190 miles to the mainland. With this system we can keep it here on the island and turn it into soil amendment,” Mannix said. “If we can reduce our solid waste tonnage by just 10 percent, we’ll save $365,000 in hauling costs each year.”

Mannix said the Key West representative will also speak about the southernmost city’s plan to institute mandatory recycling, perhaps as early as mid-February. The city has been sponsoring a series of public meetings about the issue, the last of which is scheduled to begin just two hours after the conclusion of the R4 Summit. Mannix said a draft ordinance is ready and waiting for the city commission to take action on it, probably at its meeting Nov. 18.

“The public feedback on mandatory recycling has been very positive,” Mannix said. “The main questions have been about enforcement, especially in multi-family units and those with large transient populations. We won’t go straight into enforcement — we’ll be launching a tremendous public education and marketing campaign first so we can get everyone on board.”

Keys utilities and other entities, including the school district and community college, the National Marine Sanctuary and the U.S. Navy, will talk about how their organizations are working to reduce the waste stream. Attendees will also hear a presentation from Phil Bresee of Broward County Waste and Recycling Services, who will speak about a variety of issues in waste management, including pay-as-you-throw systems that base a disposal bills on the amount of trash put out for pickup.

The first Keyswide Sustain-Ability Project meeting was in May 2007. Each municipality was asked to sign the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and to establish a greenhouse gas emission baseline. At each quarterly KSAP meeting to follow, including the one Nov. 6, the municipalities, utilities and other key partners are asked to report their progress toward reducing emissions.