As of May 1, 2023, Sarasota County residential solid waste customers no longer will be able to use plastic bags for yard materials

Revised county regulations win County Commission approval as staff prepares to seek bids for new solid waste collections contract

On a 4-1 vote this week, the Sarasota County Commission eliminated the use of plastic bags for yard waste as of May 1, 2023, though paper bags may be used.

Additionally, yard waste “may be placed in a rigid container” or bundled and tied, according to the amended ordinance that the board members adopted during their regular meeting on Nov. 15.

A county staff memo included in the agenda packet points out that the Solid Waste Department staff will conduct outreach to customers to inform them of the change.

During a July discussion with the commissioners, Brian Usher, director of the Solid Waste Department, explained that the county incurs an extra expense for workers at the county landfill to tear open plastic bags with yard waste. The goal with the change the commissioners approved this week is to eliminate that cost, Usher said.

A slide he showed them on July 13 pointed out that, in the 2021 fiscal year, “[T]he equivalent of more than 6.4 million 39-gallon, heavy-duty plastic garbage bags of yard waste were opened by hand.” During the 2022 fiscal year — which ended on Sept. 30 — the slide said that staff anticipated a total expense of more than $300,000 for that manual labor.

Usher also noted the results of a survey that the Solid Waste Department had conducted this year. That showed that 80% of the single-family homes the county serves in the unincorporated areas would not be affected by the plastic-bag prohibition, as those households already prepare yard waste in other ways.

In response to a survey question asking whether customers would be willing to pay more to continue using plastic bags, 87% of the respondents said they would not.

The county has not been allowing plastic bags in lieu of or within recycling containers, as noted in the amended ordinance the board members approved this week.

Commissioner Christian Ziegler cast the “No” vote during the board’s regular meeting on Nov. 15, though he did not cite any reason for that decision. However, in the past, he has explained his stance against raising utilities expenses for county customers.

The new ordinance also needed to be in place to facilitate staff’s efforts to secure a new solid waste collection contract, Usher told the commissioners this summer. That is expected to be lead to higher rates for customers.

Tim Bowers, the new Waste Management representative for the region including Sarasota County, told the commissioners on July 13 that solid waste bids are “going up and up and up.” The top reasons for that, he explained, are the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic; inflation, especially in regard to fuel prices; and a nationwide shortage of drivers who have the certification to handle waste haulers’ equipment.

As of that time, Bowers added, companies nationwide were short by 80,000 drivers.

The new county regulations do allow for automated garbage collection, in addition to the automated, single-stream recycling pickups that have been in effect since January 2020. The ordinance also will require commercial collection services for residential properties that are “operating commercial activities” and need to use more than two recycling containers a week.

During his July 13 presentation, Usher also pointed out that the Solid Waste Department survey found that 94% of the county’s residential customers would be able to get all of their garbage into a 95-gallon container.

Further, the ordinance creates two solid waste districts — north and south — in the county. The goal of that change, the document says, “is to promote additional competition and ensure the cost effective, efficient and responsible collection and disposal of Residential Waste and Commercial Waste within the County.”

Those districts will be in effect as of Oct. 1, 2024. That is when a new county contract will go into effect for garbage, recycling and yard-waste collections, as Usher has explained.

Other facets of the new regulations

The modified ordinance also says the county’s garbage, yard-waste and recycling franchisee “will not be responsible for collecting Automated Curbside Containers which exceed the weight posted on the cart.” If the contractor’s employees do not collect them, the ordinance says, a worker must tag those containers and notify the county within 24 hours of taking such action. “The tag shall clearly indicate the reason for the rejection, with information which will allow the Customer to correct the problem for future Collections,” the ordinance says.

Another section of the revised ordinance allows residential customers to set out electronic waste (items such as discarded computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos and copiers); 5 gallons of used oil “in plastic containers marked as ‘used oil’ with screw-on lids”; up to 5 oil filters placed in clear ziplock plastic bags; and up to four automotive tires, on or off the rim, up to 25 inches in diameter, “for Collection on each scheduled Solid Waste Collection day.”

In regard to commercial customers — hotels, governmental entities, churches, hospitals and schools, for examples — the ordinance stresses, “It is mandatory that all owners and/or occupants of Commercial Real Property within the Solid Waste Service District(s) use [the contractor] for the Collection of Solid Waste and Yard Trash.”

Additionally, the ordinance points out, the solid waste contractor may pick up bulk waste, white goods (appliances such as washing machines and refrigerators); electronic waste (items such as discarded computers, printers, scanners, televisions and fax machines); and used oil and used oil filters from owners and/or occupants of commercial property.

On Oct. 11, the commissioners authorized the public hearing they conducted this week. That was a factor of their unanimous passage that day of their Consent Agenda of routine business items.