What percentage of Florida’s “trash” is recycled? Have a number in mind? The official answer according to the state of Florida is 52%. Here’s the next question. Did you know Florida has a law stating 75% of all of Florida’s trash should be recycled? No worries, I didn’t either. Not before some good work by Florida Trend put Florida’s recycling in perspective. In 2010, Florida passed a law stating 75% of all of Florida’s trash should be recycled starting in 2020. With last year being the year of the pandemic that was all but forgotten. Additionally, the state law didn’t have any penalties attached to non-compliance, so it acts as more of a proclamation than actual policy but still, it exists.
But back to what is being recycled, the 52%. That sounds impressive to me but as it turns out there’s a debate over what recycling actually is. The state of Florida counts any form of reuse of materials as recycling. So, for example, if recyclables are incinerated and the incineration generates energy that’s harvested, that’s considered recycling. In terms of the more traditional approach to which the material is broken down and reused in new materials, that number drops down to 21% according to a national study by the Ball Corporation called the 50 states of recycling. According to Ball, the national leader in recycling is Maine at 72% and at the bottom it’s West Virginia at just 2%. As it turns out the national average is 25%, which pits Florida below average in overall traditional recycling. But back to the disparity between the state’s number at 52% and the study’s at 21%. What’s that number in between represent?
Whether you agree or disagree with the state’s accounting for recycling, what’s actually happening is that the state and our waste resources handlers are trying to make the most of an economically challenging situation. The reason 32% of Florida’s waste is recycled the way it is, is economics. Often recycling remains more expensive than new production. Rather than paying losses to traditionally recycle more, Florida commonly recycles what makes sense traditionally and finds an ancillary use for the rest. That makes sense to me and even if something I place in a recycling bin ends up in an incinerator producing energy to power something else, that’s a decent trade-off. Pragmatism rather than purity makes sense but there is a debate about how much is really being recycled in Florida.