Public feedback has caused Okaloosa County officials to re-examine the county's recycling program.
SHALIMAR — After hearing complaints from many of their constituents about recycled items being re-directed to a landfill, the Okaloosa County Commission is close to approving a proposed agreement that would see recyclables processed once again at the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority’s recycling facility in Cantonment.
The anticipated higher cost of returning to the traditional recycling method could be paid for with non-reserve money from the county solid waste enterprise fund, and without raising solid waste customers’ rates.
The commission plans to consider approval of that overall scenario at its regular meeting at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the County Administration Building in Shalimar.
On Sept. 17, a majority of the board agreed to have recycled items from residential customers of Waste Management in the county’s overall franchise area sent to a “waste-to-energy” landfill in Jackson County, rather than paying higher costs while continuing to send the items to the ECUA facility and rather than disbanding the county recycling program altogether.
Scores of customers who are passionate about recycling, however, have railed against that decision.
Many of them called and emailed commissioners with their concerns, and more than 3,700 of them reportedly signed a petition saying they would be willing to pay $1 more per month on their solid waste bill in order to keep their recyclables going to the ECUA.
And at a Thursday workshop on the county’s recycling options, more than 100 recycling supporters overflowed the commission chamber in Shalimar to espouse the benefits of recycling and urge the board to return to the former recycling program.
They included several people who called for everyone to use reusable shopping bags and water bottles and buy fewer products packaged in plastic.
The county’s prior contract with the ECUA ended in late September. Since then, recycled items from customers in the county’s franchise area have been taken to the Springhill Landfill.
But unlike some other forms of waste at that landfill, many of the recycled items will not decompose and will not turn into methane gas that can be used for electricity, Destin City Councilman Parker Destin, who next year will seek to win a seat on the commission, said at Thursday’s workshop.
A possible new two-year agreement in which the ECUA would once again process the county’s recyclables would include an estimated processing cost hike of about $350,000-$400,000 per year, said county Public Works Director Jason Autrey.
The higher cost reflects the low worldwide demand for many recycled items and their resulting low market value.
The increased cost would be paid for with funding from the county solid waste fund’s operating budget, not its reserves. Some county officials say it’s important to preserve the reserve money, which currently totals almost $3.8 million, for emergencies such as hurricane cleanup efforts.
Pending the commission’s approval on Tuesday, the potential new agreement with the ECUA could be considered by the ECUA’s board of directors on Oct. 22.