Here’s a topic out of nowhere: Recycling.
I recycle. Can’t remember a time when I didn’t. I’m not dedicated like some people. I don’t tear off labels or wash soup cans before they’re dropped into the recycling bin.
Recycling was once a big deal around these parts. And a money-maker for nonprofit groups.
Now it’s an afterthought, if any thought at all.
So, because it’s Wednesday and I feel like it, let’s talk about recycling.
I’d like to tell you I spent Tuesday researching this topic by poring over data about how recycling lightens the burden on the solid-waste stream, saving us more landfill space and money in the long run.
Nope, didn’t do that. Instead, I folded cardboard boxes for recycling.
My wife and Amazon are on a first-name basis. Great Christmas gifts were delivered in approximately 1,329 cardboard boxes of all shapes and sizes. They’re beginning to take over the garage, so that meant box-folding time.
I’ve always enjoyed the rite of recycling. Once, in another lifetime, we had an aluminum-can crusher attached to the garage wall. These were my beer-drinking years, so on days off work I’d spend hours in the garage crushing cans, which I’d take to a local recycler for money to buy more beer.
(Sigh. NOT the good old days.)
Recycling is the ultimate feel-good, right? Saving the planet, and all that, one plastic spring water bottle at a time.
In the early 2000s, Florida was on a recycling kick. It set recycling goals for counties, starting with 30% in 2010, accelerating every two years toward a goal of 70% in 2020.
We weren’t hitting the goal, but recycling did increase. The county put more resources into it, and we received a state grant that paid for a year’s worth of curbside recycling. Not surprisingly, the numbers jumped but still not keeping pace with the state goal.
(You’re a true Citrus Countian if you still have that little red bin. I kept mine for decades, though I think it got left behind in the move.)
(I just noticed the person in our photo today is carrying a little red bin. Yes!)
As mentioned, I could make money off crushed beer cans. The commodity was hot enough for community groups to reap proceeds of sales from nine recycling centers strategically placed throughout the county.
In 2018, the recycling golden goose laid its last egg. I don't claim to understand any of it. Something about China. Recycling was no longer a financial success for local governments; it quickly became an albatross.
With money no longer coming in, the community groups backed out. Many of those groups had an eye out on their recycling centers and kept them clean.
So, guess what happened with the community groups bowed out? The recycling sites were still heavily used, but they were becoming trashy. Commissioners were getting complaints. The county started closing those down too.
Still, the county had an answer for the state to reach that 70% goal by 2020. In March 2019, when Citrus County was hitting recycling at a 37% clip, the County Commission started a three-year clock for mandatory garbage collection that would have included a curbside recycling element.
The political climate, as it turns out, had changed considerably after three years. Commissioners tanked mandatory garbage and curbside recycling, likely for good.
(The state also gave up on the 70% goal. If you’re interested here’s its LONG report on recycling.)
As for today, the cities provide recycling pickup curbside with sanitation service, but the county provides just one spot, and that’s at the landfill. The recycling bins are accessible only when the landfill is open, and it’s in a weird spot — entrance to the WTC firearms range. Access in and out can be a little tricky.
Can’t really blame the county for scaling back the recycling focus. The annual cost is enormous: $965,000 with most of that for the contract to haul this stuff away. There’s just one county employee dedicated to recycling.
My point: The County Commission has a strategy meeting on Thursday. Commissioners will be looking at priorities today, tomorrow, and 20 years from now. It’s wise to remember the recycling story. At one time, this was the future. Circumstances beyond our control changed all that. We should focus on stuff we control.
Some people are turned off by recycling, but I’m not. I can’t bring myself to throw old newspapers or empty Gatorade Zero bottles in the garbage.
I don’t know if recycling saves the planet. But I’m cool with it.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.