Newspaper: The Sunpost
Title: Wasteful: In Miami-Dade County Recycling Is the Law. But Apparently Not That Many People Know It
Author/Reporter: Ben Torter
Date: August 17, 2007

A recycling receptacle in one Miami Beach condominium has various compartments that rotate. Residents can push a button to indicate the type of material being sent down and the machine rotates to sort the recycling. Photo by Jacqueline Carini/jacqueline.nexsoftware.com

With Hollywood, rock stars and Al Gore jumping on the green movement bandwagon in the last couple of years, and Madison Avenue using it as the latest tool to sell everything from cars to toilet paper, saving the globe from environmental Armageddon is being beamed into the mainstream consciousness like never before.

Recycling is one way people can help the environment and, here in Miami-Dade County, it’s actually the law.

A 1992 Miami-Dade County ordinance requires all businesses and multifamily dwellings to recycle. But most people questioned by the SunPost, in an extremely informal poll of friends and city activists, were surprised the law exists.

I found out about this ordinance around the time I was elected, and I’ve been involved in the community for years, Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Gongora told the SunPost. Gongora was elected to the commission last fall.

When the Environmental Coalition of Miami Beach questioned people on Lincoln Road in February, the group found that 70 percent of respondents had never heard of the county’s recycling rule.

The research for this story made it clear that even people working for the Solid Waste departments in both Miami-Dade County and Miami Beach, as well as private hauling companies like Waste Management, were either reticent to answer questions related to recycling, or simply lacked the knowledge to do so.

Now a proposal by the Miami-Dade County Department of Solid Waste Management, a campaign by the Environmental Coalition of Miami Beach and the newly formed Miami Beach Ad Hoc Green Committee ó of which Gongora is a member ó have the potential to pressure people to recycle through greater enforcement and public education.

Currently the recycling ordinance is enforced on a reactive basis, meaning only if someone calls the county to complain. Chris Rose, deputy director for administration of the county’s Department of Solid Waste Management, told the SunPost there is a $713,000 proposal for next year’s budget to purchase equipment and add seven enforcement officers and two office support personnel. If it passes, the new employees will visit condo and apartment complexes, as well as commercial enterprises (which include about 4,600 bars and restaurants throughout the county), to educate people about the law and make sure they comply.

We recognized we had to be more proactive in the enforcement of this ordinance, Rose said. He warned that the 13 county commissioners first have to approve the budget in September, during a fiscal year that calls for countywide cuts of more than $240 million.

The ordinance states that multifamily residential dwellings like condominiums must, at a minimum, have a program in place to recycle newspaper, glass, aluminum cans, steel cans and plastics. Commercial establishments must recycle at least three of the following 10 waste materials: high-grade office paper, mixed paper, corrugated cardboard, glass, aluminum (cans, scrap), steel (cans, scrap), other metals/scrap production materials, plastics, textiles, wood.

Individuals can anonymously report violators by dialing Miami- Dade’s 311 Answer Center. The county will send someone to inspect the facility and explain the code.

Then we will issue a formal letter explaining that they have 30 days in which to make contact with DSWM acknowledging the need to comply and to begin working toward compliance, Rose wrote the SunPost. At the end of the 30 days, if the business has not contacted DSWM, then we will follow up with a further seven-day warning notice with five days to comply. Fines will start immediately after this.

Depending on the size of the condominium building or business, fines can be as high as $950 per day for up to 20 days.

Even with 100 percent compliance, it’s still up to the individual to actually follow a recycling plan.

There’s no law that requires people to participate. The law just requires the businesses and complexes to have a plan in place, Rose said.

The Ad-Hoc Green Committee in the city of Miami Beach had its first meeting on July 17. Still in the early planning stages, one of its goals is to encourage more locals to recycle.

I’m not looking to come after people but just to educate them, because I think a lot of people would be willing to comply with green initiatives if they knew about them, committee Chairman Gongora told the SunPost.

People living in single-family homes are not required to recycle; however, because of the county’s curbside recycling program, many do. According to the county’s Web site, nearly 320,000 homes in the unincorporated area, as well as the cities of Aventura, Cutler Bay, Doral, El Portal, Florida City, Medley, Miami Beach, Miami Gardens, Miami Lakes, Miami Springs, North Bay Village, Opa-locka, Palmetto Bay, Pinecrest, South Miami, Sunny Isles, Surfside, Sweetwater, Virginia Gardens and West Miami participate in the program. The city of Miami also provides curbside recycling for residents. Curbside collection is provided to single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes and some cluster homes, the county site states. This service can be requested online at www.miamidade.gov/dswm/bin.asp.

Tamika Clear, sanitation coordinator for the city of Miami Beach, explained to the SunPost how the county curbside program works in Miami Beach. Residences with eight or fewer units, as well as single-family homes, have access to the county-contracted Waste Services of Florida. Upon request, clients receive green and blue bins that they must place outside once a week for pickup. The green bins are for newspapers and colored inserts. Corrugated cardboard boxes can be flattened and tied up and placed next to the bins. The blue bins are for aluminum food and beverage cans and clear, brown and green glass food and beverage containers. If on a particular week there are too many items to fit in the bins, they may be put into brown paper bags. Household batteries also are picked up the first Wednesday of each month. They must be disposed of in clear zip-top plastic bags. Some plastic bottles are taken too.

Clear said Miami Beach condo buildings of more than eight units, and businesses, must use a private contractor. Besides Waste Services of Florida, the three other licensed garbage haulers in Miami Beach are Waste Management, All Services and Davis Sanitation.

Right now Miami Beach City Hall recycles mixed paper and cardboard.

Luis Shishido, a building services technician with the city of Miami Beach, is environmentally conscious. A vegetarian, Shishido doesn’t drink or smoke and enjoys organic fruit and vegetables. He gave the SunPost a tour of City Hall’s paper and cardboard recycling containers. There is at least one on each floor. He’s observed that city employees for the most part are good about throwing their paper in the bins, but that people visiting City Hall are often careless and throw all types of trash in with the paper, which he then has to separate.

It’s easy to separate everything, but people don’t care, Shishido said. Now the pollution is fine, but what about in 100 years?

Luiz Rodrigues of ECOMB, which conducted the Lincoln Road recycling survey, thinks more people would recycle if it were more convenient. He’s pushing for the creation of three to six recycling drop-off centers in Miami Beach. Currently there are none. He’d also like to see recycling bins on Lincoln Road, Espanola Way, Ocean Drive and perhaps along Collins Avenue and the beach as well. Another idea he has is biodegradable trash bag dispensers at the city’s beach entrances, so people can easily separate their recyclables from regular garbage and drop them in a receptacle after a day at the beach.

Many skeptics have the idea that separating recyclables is for naught; that once the trash is taken away it’s all thrown in the same place anyway. Jeanmarie Massa, government services manager for Waste Services of Florida, said that belief couldn’t be further from the truth. She explained that once recyclables are picked up, they are brought to their materials recovery facility near the airport. The newspapers are separated and smashed into 1,200-pound bales and shipped out for sale. A certain amount is sold to U.S. companies that recycle it into newsprint. The rest is sold to companies in China that turn it into packaging to ship products back to us.

The comingled glass, aluminum and plastic is also separated and sold to companies around the country.

The aluminum is sold to Anheuser-Busch, so we know what happens to it, Massa said.

Nothing is wasted, not even the 5 to 6 percent of residual waste collected. It is sold to an energy plant and converted into electricity.

I really believe that recycling is one of the best and easiest things we can do for the planet, Massa said. It takes far less energy to make glass from recycled glass than to mine bauxite and make new glass.