Study shows recycling success after one year of single-stream program in the city of Sarasota

Nearly 85% of materials placed in carts correctly, report says

A city worker in April 2019 checks one of the new single-stream recycling carts. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

In March 2019, workers with the City of Sarasota began delivering 15,000 new carts for a single-stream recycling service the city planned to launch on April 1.

In his March 8, 2019 newsletter, City Manager Tom Barwin wrote, “Once you receive your new recycling cart, check it out. The lid will help keep recyclables contained and the wheels will make it easier to, well, wheel the cart around.”
A diagram on the lid, he continued, explained what is and is not recyclable. Barwin encouraged residents to pay attention to that and/or check the city webpage offering the same information.

Prior to the launch of the new program, recyclables had to be separated and placed into two smaller bins.

In September 2019, slightly more than five months after the new single-stream system went into effect, Barwin reported that in August 2019, the city’s Solid Waste Division collected 337.4 tons of recycled materials from city customers, compared to 210.1 tons in August 2018, a 60% increase, he noted. “As we expected,” he added, “switching to the larger, easier-to-use carts and eliminating the need to separate paper and plastic materials into different bins has eliminated barriers that kept some individuals from recycling.”

Later, Barwin announced that the city had begun a study of the recycling program; details would be provided after the initiative was completed, he noted.

That report was unveiled this week. The study “shows that city customers ‘are on the right track with proper recycling and reducing contamination,’ the city announced this week in a news release.

“The recycling composition study conducted by Kessler Consulting Inc. of Tampa (KCI) earlier this year pulled representative samples from each of the City’s collection vehicles for one week, then hand-sorted them into 33 categories representing major types of recyclables and non-recyclable contamination,” the release explained.

The study found that nearly 85% of the materials were placed correctly in residential recycling carts, the report said. “The most significant materials were mixed recyclable paper and glass containers, representing 44.4 percent of the recyclables,” the study report said.

Among the non-recyclable items identified — which made up another 16.6% of the materials — were paper towels, plastic utensils and straws, plastic bags, clothing, construction debris, food waste, cat litter, dirty diapers, scrap metal, hoses, electronics and even full bags of garbage, the city news release added.

This pie chart, included in the study report, shows the breakdown of items placed in the city carts. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

“These types of contaminants can present many issues when they arrive at the recycling facility for processing, including lowering the value of the recycling streams on the secondary market and adding cost to remove and dispose of these materials,” the release pointed out.

Some items, such as plastic bags and “tanglers” (rope, cords, hoses) “can get wrapped around the facility’s sorting equipment, which can cause significant downtime, injuries to workers or damage to the equipment,” thus increasing costs that can get passed along to taxpayers, the release said.

Image courtesy City of Sarasota

“Our residents are doing a great job with recycling, but our goal will always be to have zero contamination,” said Public Works General Manager Todd Kucharski in the release. “We’ll use the data from the study to refine our efforts to educate the public on the proper ways to recycle, and we look forward to conducting this same audit in the near future to see how we’ve improved as a community.”

Many customers have good intentions, Kucharski continued in the release, but they “are guilty of ‘wish-cycling,’” or placing items in their recycling carts with the hope that those items can be recycled, even if the materials are on the city’s banned list.

“If you’re not sure if something is recyclable, you can check the informational graphic found on the lid of your 65-gallon City of Sarasota recycling cart that was delivered to customers last spring,” the release reminded residents. Members of the public also may visit “and type in an item to see how it can be properly recycled or disposed of,” the release noted.