As municipalities across Florida and the nation scrutinize their recycling programs to decide their future, they may not consider much more than how the program affects their budget’s bottom line.
In recent years, several Florida cities have shut down their recycling programs, attributing the decision in large part to the costs of the process now dwarfing its economic benefits.
Dr. Malak Anshassi, a researcher at Florida Polytechnic University, has found that while eliminating recycling programs may have some small, short-term financial benefits, the environmental damage it would cause is far greater.
In a study funded by the Florida Recycling Partnership Foundation, Anshassi created a much fuller picture of the realities of recycling in Florida. She worked to gather and analyze large amounts of data about Florida recycling costs and work to understand more about the impact of changes to these programs.
“There’s been a lot of talk that recycling costs too much and we need to make it better,” said Anshassi, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at Florida Poly. “We figured out a way to evaluate and model those perspectives and were able to find a few answers related to the fact that it really costs very little but has massive environmental implications on the order of being even better for you to implement recycling in general than to implement other recycling and sustainability efforts like electric cars.
“It’s better for the environment and it’s less expensive.”
In 2008, Florida established a goal of achieving a 75% recycling rate by 2020. By 2020, the rate was only about 54%.
“Recycling does cost you money, but so does any other utility, and you pay for phone bills, subscription services, and coffee, but recycling is a lot more worthwhile than you expect it to be,” said Anshassi, whose work on this study began while she was a graduate student at the University of Florida.
The idea that eliminating recycling programs will have a positive impact on local budgets is shortsighted, she said.
“If you get rid of recycling, it’s not like the materials disappear,” Anshassi said. “They still need to make it into the waste management system and into the treatment facilities.”
Recycling reduces the amount of waste that needs to be processed and saves room at landfills, she said. Additionally, there is value in the recyclable products, including the cost it took to mine steel and create cans, for instance. By recovering materials like these that have a historically higher commodity value and high environmental offset when recycled, cities can make their recycling programs make financial and environmental sense, she said.
“Hopefully this information can be used by local governments to educate their county commissioners and local councils that recycling is worth keeping,” Anshassi said. “It’s a small cost that generates real environmental savings and offsets.”
Read the study here.
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