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City Council tackles educating residents on the do's and don'ts of recycling

Duval County ranks 17 out of 67 counties in Florida for its recycling efforts.

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. — The rise of home deliveries shipped in cardboard boxes plus the holiday season of gift-giving create so many opportunities for recycling that it might seem odd that Jacksonville is trying to figure out how to bolster the program that keeps trash out of the landfill by giving it a second life.

Duval County ranks 17 out of 67 counties in Florida for its recycling efforts, but when it comes to the curbside recycling that residents are most familiar with, what was once a money-maker for the city in sorting and selling material now ends up costing Jacksonville.

City Council members say one way to tackle that would be to better educate residents about the do's and don'ts of recycling. Almost 20 percent of what goes 'into curbside recycling bins ends up getting tossed after the material is picked up and sorted.

"People want to recycle," City Council member Ron Salem said. "They believe in it, but I don't think the public is educated on the specifics of what they should and shouldn't be doing."

Salem, who is chairman of the council Transportation, Energy and Utilities Committee, filed legislation (2020-700)  that would require a report due by March 1 annually summarizing activities and costs of the recycling program. 

"I don't know that we've taken a hard look at our recycling program," Salem said. "There is so much that can be done with it."

The holiday season brings out the complexities of what can and cannot be recycled, right down to the kind of wrapping paper.

Items that aren't recyclable include bubble wrap, gift ribbons and bows, sticky gift labels, cellophane, foam peanuts, plastic air packs and styrofoam, according to Republic Services, which operates a regional recycling center in Jacksonville where items get sorted. For basic guidelines go republicservices.com/residents/recycling/basics.

Items that can be recycled are gift boxes, tissue paper and shoe boxes.

Then there are the "it depends" items. Plain wrapping paper is recyclable but not metallic paper with foil, glitter or other decorative embellishments. It's the same for gift cards: Plain paper is good but not the cards with the decorative add-ons. 

Another recycling tip is the items should not be placed in a plastic bag when dropped into the recycling bin. City Council member Danny Becton said he learned during a visit to Republic's recycling center, which opened in 2012, that a plastic bag filled with items goes straight to the pile that ends up in the landfill.

Becton said the city definitely needs to keep the program, but there needs to be more public education about it.

"It's just the right thing to do in this day and age," he said.

After sorting through items at the recycling center, Republic sells the useable material and the city gets 50 percent of the sales revenue, which used to be a way to offset some of the cost for the recycling effort.

But China, which is a major global market for buying recyclables, tightened its policies because it was getting too much contaminated material.

For the current budget year, the city expects it will pay $2.64 million for the work done at the recycling center and get $1.1 million from the sale of recyclables, putting the net program cost at $1.53 million.

Five years ago when the market was better for selling recyclables, the operation was a money-maker netting about $1.65 million.

"Right there, you've got a $3 million swing," city Public Works Director John Pappas said.

The figures for the city's cost does not include the expense of trucks and crews picking up residential bins every two weeks. Salem said that's part of the information he wants to get for the annual report in his bill.

Click here to read this story from the Florida Times-Union.

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