City to residents: How close can we get to zero waste?
Winter Parkers are not recycling as much as they think they are
City leaders will double-down on a campaign encouraging residents to reduce waste — especially single-use plastics — in an effort to reduce the amount of garbage headed to the landfill. Winter Parkers will be encouraged to reuse items when possible and to recycle in a way that prevents loads from being sent to the dump rather than to a facility where they are processed to sell.
The “Zero In on Zero Waste” initiative is the next logical step in bringing more awareness to the statewide problem of “wish-cycling,” or the myth that nearly anything put into recycling bins is broken down and reused. In reality, many items that end up in the recycle bin — food-soiled containers such as empty greasy pizza boxes or plastic bags — contaminate entire truckloads of recycling, causing them to be diverted to the landfill instead of a recycling center.
“A lot of residents are trying their very best,” said Sara Miller, Winter Park’s sustainability manager. “But they are not recycling as much as they think they are.”
In 2022, Winter Park homes produced 15,242 tons of garbage, of which only 5,000 tons, or about 33%, went through recycling, composting or some other method instead of going to the landfill. That percent of recycled waste has remained relatively unchanged over the last decade even as Winter Park residents are creating 3.5% more waste, according to city records.
City officials would like to reduce the total amount of waste by 5% by 2025 and increase the amount of recycled garbage by 10% in the same time period.
Miller said residents can help do that by paying close attention to what is accepted by the recycling centers, which is printed on the city-issued bins or available at this guide published by the city. They can refuse plastic bags and single-use plastics at the grocery store, compost food waste and look for packaging made from cardboard rather than plastic when shopping for new items.
She said she knows it’s easier said than done, and she doesn’t expect every resident to adopt every change over night.
“It’s a luxury for a lot of people,” she said. “It may not be suitable for you and not everybody can do what we’re asking. It does take practice.”
Some residents may wonder if those efforts are worthwhile or if they can really make a difference as an individual when others aren’t making the effort.
“I think I look at it maybe a little bit differently,” said Commissioner Todd Weaver, an outspoken advocate for sustainability. “Our landfill has about 30 years worth of space left and everybody’s individual effort is required to make a difference. We can’t keep wasting the way we have been.”
Gloria Eby, Winter Park’s director of Natural Resources and Sustainability, included the upcoming campaign in her recent budget presentation to commissioners.
The key principles revolve around the “Five R’s,” she said in response to a question last week:
- Refuse: Say no to what you don’t need.
- Reduce: Let go of things that are no longer of use and donate or sell. It also means only focusing on necessary purchases.
- Reuse: Switch disposable items for reusable items and permanent alternatives.
- Recycle: We’ve been made to believe that recycling is the go-to solution for waste reduction. In fact, it’s number four in the list behind refuse, reduce and reuse.
- Rot: Compost your own household waste or take part in a composting program for organic waste.
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