Two years after a new recycling system began in unincorporated Polk County, it is clear the word didn’t get out to recycling customers.
City officials are facing some of the same problems and one of them, Lakeland, has already hired a company to improve the situation.
Polk officials are in the process of hiring a public relations firm to do the same.
There is no word yet on when residents can expect to learn the details of these new campaigns, but there is supposedly some effort to coordinate the efforts to reduce public confusion on this issue.
There is already some confusion caused by the fact that there is no uniformity across Polk County about what residents are encouraged to put in their recycling carts.
Some allow magazines and phone books, some don’t. Some allow aluminum foil. Some don’t. Some allow plastic garden pots. Some do not. The same goes for glass and plastic bottles. You get the idea.
The problem these campaigns will attempt to address is excessive contamination in recycling containers caused by residents putting in stuff that has never been acceptable such as disposable diapers, polystyrene and pizza boxes in the bins.
This contamination has two effects.
One is that really contaminated loads are simply sent directly to the landfill, which thwarts recycling efforts by residents.
The other is that the cost of having sort contaminants out of the recycling line makes recycling less cost-effective.
Local governments don’t make money from recycling, but recycling does reduce the need to expand landfills, which are very expensive to design, permit and construct.
This is not simply a Polk County problem, it is a nationwide problem.
The contamination problem has been aggravated by changing markets led by China, which no longer accepts as much of the world’s plastic waste as it once did.
Add to that the drop in oil prices has made it less economic feasible to recycle plastic (you did know it was a petroleum product, didn’t you?).
The situation is even forcing many local governments to rethink how or even whether they will continue curbside recycling.
In the meantime, there are things you can do to help.
Make sure you understand what materials are acceptable to recycle in your community so that you are not part of the problem.
Buy less throwaway products in the first place. Take reusable bags to the store. Use a refillable water bottle.
Support legislation that puts some of the responsibility for recycling waste on the people who create the products that enter the waste stream in the first place: the manufacturers. This is already done in Europe.