Unlocking the Mysteries of Recycling in Miami

Being from Canada, where there are no less than 5 different recycling bins for all matter of materials, it has been a mystery to me for some time how the recycling works here in Miami. To address some of my questions and answer the key question - why isn't it better (according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, only ~18% of Miami-Dade County's waste is recycled), I consulted with a husband of a good friend, Damon Stinson who happens to be a consultant in the Solid Waste & Recycling industry. Below are the answers he kindly provided to my questions. Hopefully it can shed some light for you as it did for me and maybe one step at a time, we can continue to move in the right direction so we don't end up underwater!  

  1. What level of organization if responsible for recycling?  In Florida, recycling "flow control" is the responsibility of the County, but left to the individual municipalities to construct and perform its own programs, so long as the material is delivered to a state and local approved and licensed facility.
  2. Why has there been no recycling pick up during the pandemic? Solid Waste is one off five essential services that must be provided by municipalities to residents and businesses under state law. As certain times call for, recycling may be suspended in order to ensure the more health hazardous wastes are collected. in short, its the result of a labor shortage.
  3. I’ve heard that we cannot recycle glass in Miami (not sure if this is City of Miami, Miami Shores?). Is this true? If so, why? Glass is recycled to the best of a facilities ability, and it is still an acceptable recyclable material per Miami Dade County and the state. However, glass is very difficult to manage as it often breaks during collection and compaction, and distinct separation is required for reuse. The process for the separation of glass from the collection point to the processing facility, combined with the difficulty of finding outlets for reuse make recycling glass challenging. The most optimal programs for recycling glass are rebates for exchanges of reuSable bottles, but those programs rarely exist outside the northeast and Pacific western US.
  4. I’ve also heard that any items thrown into recycling will not be recycled if they are dirty? This is also false, although it again depends on the quality of the material and condition it is in when received at the processing facility. While a washing process is used for high quality material such as thicker plastics and metals such as aluminium, smaller plastics and especially paper products and cardbboard are often tossed into the waste stream once contaminated. So, the rule should be empty and clean everything as best you can, and keep any paper or coardbard materials clean of food, liquids or other contaminates. and always, NO PIZZA BOXES!
  5. Why doesn’t the city provide different buckets for different types of materials? Wouldn’t this make it easier to recycle items or less costly? The cost of collecting recycling in multiple streams has exceeded the value of the commodities markets for resale. Therefore, it has become more affordable to collect everything together and sort out the materials that can be recycled versus separate collections that offer a cleaner input at the processing facility, but do not offer a greater resale value or reduced processing costs.
  6. Why do some countries seem to have much more organized systems of recycling? What can we do to encourage our elected officials to start taking steps in this direction? Dependence on foreign countries is really what caused the US to be in the position it currently is. As other countries invested in infrastructure or pay manual laborers less to sort and process, economic factors domestically pushed the US into exporting recyclable materials versus labor and capital intensive methods of managing recycling domestically. As the commodities market changed and the recycling became more and more contaminated, these countries have stopped taking our waste and recycling. More and more investment into infrastructure is being done at the municipal level in Florida, as counties have used bonds to build government owned processing facilities to manage recycling, as they have the authority to direct the flow of the recycling to their own plants. This process costs hundreds of millions of dollars and often fights intense legislative efforts by the private sector to keep the markets free for private disposal providers to remain in operation.
  7. How do you feel we are doing with recycling efforts in Miami? So-So at best. While a good amount of what you recycle at home does in fact get processed, there is a great deal that is left to be had and Miami-Dade municipalities often use the private sector for processing, where control of the output is lost and subjected to the operational restraints of financial pressure.
  8. What are the easy steps every resident should take to help reduce waste? Consider sustainable methods of packaging, such as using your own bags at the grocery or asking for paper instead of plastic, making honest efforts to eliminate disposable items (paper plates, utensils, aluminum cans and plastic bottled drinks, etc.) use water bottles, metal straws and make drinks in containers at home, reuse packaging and other materials at home (such as plastic containers for storage or boxes to mail out packages instead of purchasing new ones to fulfill shipments, etc.) and composting food waste can have a major reduction in waste. The goal is to count how many bags of waste you put out a week, and cut that number in half.
  9. What are the consequences if we do not do so? Other than the obvious increased cost of waste that affects everyone's pocket books, the environmental impact is great. Any reduction in waste will subsequently reduce costs and pollution, as well as save what little remaining vital landfill space that's available to manage the appropriate wastes instead of filling them up with reusable materials. Once the landfills are gone, waste rates will be higher that water and sewer.

Damon Stinson is an investor, owner and consultant in the Solid Waste and Recycling Industry. Damon has over twenty years of experience, starting out in the family business in Louisville, Kentucky then working his way to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to serve under the late H. Wayne Huizenga with some of the most accomplished executives in the Industry. Damon went on to hold management and executive positions for Fortune 500 and rapidly growing private firms, before venturing out in 2016.

For contact information and opportunities to learn more, email Damon directly at dstinson@dadewaste.com.