Outreach coordinator for Solid Waste Division offers ‘show and tell,’ along with tips
With about 130,000 new recycling carts being distributed to Solid Waste Division customers in the unincorporated areas of Sarasota County, Wendi Crisp, outreach coordinator for that division, provided a primer on recycling do’s and don’ts for Siesta Key Association (SKA) members on Dec. 5.
When the county’s new single-stream system goes into effect the week of Jan. 6, 2020, she said, “It should actually make it a whole lot easier for residents to recycle, because you don’t have to remember what goes where.”
The rule of thumb for the bins that have been in use, she noted, has been red for items that have been read — paper products; and blue for cans, plastics, glass and bottles.
Sarasota County voters approved the addition of mandatory recycling to the county Charter about 30 years ago, Crisp explained.
A packet attached to each single-stream recycling cart has a card inside with details about the items that the county’s contractor will accept and those the company will not, Crisp explained. In the absence of clear direction, she continued, a good reminder, is “When in doubt, leave it out.”
In response to an audience members’ question, Crisp said an equipment update in October makes it possible for all plastic recyclables numbered between 1 and 6 to be accepted. Previously, she acknowledged, those labeled “6” could not be handled by the equipment.
Another important factor with recycling, Crisp told the audience of about 40 people, is to avoid contamination. For example, she said, people typically enjoy pizza because it is greasy and cheesy. However, the residue from the food means the box has to go in the trash. Some diligent members of the public will cut off the lids of the boxes, nonetheless, Crisp noted, because the lids are clean.
Anything found among recyclables that does not belong with them, she explained, has to be removed from the conveyor and taken to the landfill, where it must be weighed before it is buried.
With the new single-stream system, she continued, “We really want to get back to the basics”: cans, cartons, glass, paper and plastic. “We’re not taking anything different, anything new.”
‘Show and tell’
In what she called the “show and tell” portion of her presentation, Crisp held up a variety of items, asking the audience members if they thought the materials could be recycled.
For example, plastic retail bags — such as those from Publix — can be taken back to the store; they should not go into the recycling cart. She then held up a filmy, long plastic bag similar to the type used by dry cleaners. Even though it has a symbol on it indicating it can be recycled, she said, it “will actually wrap around the equipment” the county’s contractor uses. “We call them ‘tanglers,’” she added of such items. Those materials have to be cut out of the machinery.
Just because an item may be accepted for recycling in one area, she stressed, it may not be acceptable in Sarasota County.
Then she held up a gallon plastic jug of the type used for retail sales of water. A cap was on top of it. When Crisp asked whether the caps are recyclable, she received a mix of answers.
“Leave ’em on,” she advised the audience. If loose caps are amid recyclables, she said, they tend to fall on the floor. “They become trash.”
The bottles with the caps are put into water, she pointed out. One type of the plastic floats, while the other sinks. That is how the caps are separated from the bottles. “I thought that was fascinating,” Crisp added.
Among other prohibited items, she continued, are packing “peanuts” and Styrofoam. Sometimes, she noted, retailers — such as Best Buy — will take those materials.
With the holiday season underway and many more people purchasing goods from Amazon, Crisp said she anticipated more cardboard than usual to be recycled in coming weeks. People should flatten boxes and make certain sections no bigger than 2 feet by 3 feet are placed into the red recycling bins and — starting the week of Jan. 6, 2020 — the carts.
Then Crisp asked how many people have tied up cardboard in stacks and put it on their lawns when they had more boxes than their recycling tubs could contain
A number of audience members indicated having done that.
When the new carts go into use, she stressed, Waste Management trucks will pick up “only what is in the cart …” With the current collection system, she continued, a worker with the truck will pick up stacks of cardboard. However, a mechanical arm attached to the truck will pick up the new carts. “It’s an automated collection.”
One audience member asked whether yogurt containers can be recycled. “We’re having a running battle in my house,” the woman told Crisp.
“If there’s a little bit of residue in there,” Crisp replied, “that’s OK.”
Crisp reminded everyone to wash recyclable milk cartons as well as yogurt containers.
Moreover, Crisp pointed out that loose recyclables should be dropped into the carts. If they are in bags, she said, the materials will have to go to the landfill.
When a person asked about using paper bags to separate items, Crisp responded, “Paper’s OK.”
“How about shredded paper?” SKA board member Tom Surprise asked.
“They’re asking us to leave shredded paper out,” Crisp told him.
When SKA Director Joyce Kouba asked whether the county plans to recycle the red and blue bins after the carts go into use, Crisp explained that, because the time of year will be concurrent with the busiest part of tourist season, the county will not be able to accept the old bins.
However, Crisp continued, the staff at each of the county’s three chemical collection centers will be prepared for customers to drop off the bins. The closest chemical collection center to Siesta Key, she noted, is located at 8750 Bee Ridge Road.
Additionally, she said, some homeowner associations have been working with county staff on special collection days for the bins.
Other drop-off locations will be provided at libraries and parks, Crisp noted.
“So we can’t put ’em in the blue carts?” one man asked.
“No, unfortunately not,” Crisp replied with a laugh.
Kouba suggested that some of the nonprofit organizations in the community that sell goods donated by the public could use the old bins — after residents have cleaned them — for storage. She suggested SKA members check with such nonprofits.
The old bins would be great for personal storage, too — in a garage, for example — SKA member Dave Patton pointed out.
One person asked about news reports that the recycling market had shrunk significantly because China no longer was accepting materials from the United States.
Crisp explained that the problem that prompted Chinese concerns was the contamination of recyclables from the United States, as people in the past had not been careful about separating out materials that should have been put in their trash.
“As long as we’re sending good clean stuff to our contractor,” Crisp continued, the contractor can bale the materials and sell them off “like a commodity.”
She added of the owner of the county’s contractor, Single Stream Recyclers LLC in Sarasota, “I don’t think he would be in business if he wasn’t making money …”