Everything comes around …

A look at the realities of recycling in the Keys and keeping it clean

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Who knew China used to take about 75 percent of America’s recycling? They didn’t care if it was dirty, or discolored or if the pizza grease was still in the bottom of the cardboard box. But, now things are changing.

Recycling is a commodity — just like wheat, oil, iron, silver, copper, sugar and coffee. It’s the basis of something that can be turned into something else. Residents recycle to help the environment, cities or municipalities collect it as a public service, and after that the bottles and cans enter the free market. And that market fluctuates.

“Basically, supply of recycled materials has grown and the demand hasn’t followed,” said Waste Management’s Greg Sullivan. “Domestic markets aren’t the same as the Chinese markets. And, when China would take 40 percent contamination, domestically they only want 100 percent pure product.”

The City of Key West is considering mandatory commercial recycling.

Knowledge is key. Pure products mean no tableware, no mirrors, no pizza boxes, no Corona bottles with the lime still in it.

“The education component is huge now,” said Sullivan. “Just look at the top of the recycle bin to see what you can and cannot put in the bin.”

Marathon Garbage Service’s Greg Konrath echoed Sullivan’s sentiments. “People in Marathon do a pretty good job of recycling correctly,” he said. “If the recycling is contaminated, my guys will leave it in the bin. If you want to recycle, make an effort to recycle correctly.”

Both Waste Management and Marathon Garbage Service try to keep recycling information handy.

“If there is garbage in it, it’s garbage,” said Konrath.

Things you can’t recycle
Paper plates, plastic bags (they get stuck in the machine). aerosol canes, window glass, toys, tires, hoses, dishes, Styrofoam (the pieces are broken up too small and blow out of the machine), ceramics, greasy pizza boxes, unrinsed plastic or glass. The sorting machine runs 24-7 and has to be shut down about every four hours to clear plastic bags and other “non-recyclable” items. Most local grocery stores will let you return the plastic bags, or better yet, bring your own bags when grocery shopping.

KEY WEST NUMBERS
Waste Management serves customers living in Key West all the way up to the 7 Mile Bridge.

9 tons: per day recycling in Key West
6 tons: per day recycling from Key West city limits to 7 Mile Bridge
65 gallons: size of waste bins; a big difference from the old 18-gallon ones!
20 percent: amount of recycled materials entering the stream; the other 80 percent is trash and yard waste.
$396: rate for a year of residential trash removal in the Lower Keys.
$325: rate for a year of residential trash removal in Key West (commercial accounts help offset the cost).
45,000 tons: Annual amount of garbage, yard waste, and recycling hauled out of Key West.
80,000 tons: Annual amount of garbage, yard waste, and recycling hauled of Lower Keys.
70%: Percentage of people who recycle south of the 7 Mile Bridge.
70: employees at Waste Management
50: vehicles at Waste Management
60: Waste Management recycle bins blown away during Hurricane Irma.

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