By AXL DAVID
It’s a sweltering afternoon at the county’s sprawling landfill complex, north of Brooksville near the Citrus County line. Surrounded by a thick forest and abutting the Suncoast Parkway, it’s relatively tranquil and surprisingly free of any foul odors. On top of a “cell”, industry-speak for the meticulously carved mountain of garbage that resembles a Native American burial mound, a carefully-orchestrated symphony is being performed. Bulldozers, trained spotters looking for things like tires or batteries, and commercial contractors dumping construction waste are moving around.
Carmen Bruno, Hernando County’s Recycling Coordinator, surveys the thousands of birds feasting on the refuse – a constant game of chicken with heavy equipment moving and crushing trash in every direction. “You’d be surprised how fast they get out of the way,” Bruno said.
In budget-conscious Hernando County, Bruno focuses on the practical benefits of recycling – once thought of to be an activity limited to urban-dwelling environmentalists, or those looking to make pocket change from old beer cans.
“For every one-thousand pounds of recycling that we divert from the landfill, that’s one cubic yard of airspace that we can save at the landfill,” Bruno said. “At the current rate, I’d say we have 60 years worth of life here. By recycling more, this piece of property could last us 70 years.”
Debates on the effectiveness of curbside recycling began when the City of Bradenton, Florida, near Sarasota, recently discontinued their residential recycling pick-up. Citing contamination and staff shortages, the city transitioned to several recycling drop-off points.
Residents that make the effort to transport their own recycling to a drop-off point are less likely to contaminate the collection with non-recyclable items, according to Bradenton Mayor Gene Brown. “Our goal all along was to figure out a way to recycle more,” Brown said. “This is the first step to doing that.” While acknowledging it’s still too early to accurately gauge the success of their transition away from curbside recycling, Brown is confident in the early results that show a net increase in recycling with fewer contaminated loads being diverted to a landfill.
According to Brown, in June of 2021, just over 20 tons of recycling were collected from curbside service, but more than half of it was contaminated and not recyclable. This past June, the first month of their transition away from curbside recycling, nearly 15 tons were collected at their drop-off sites and virtually all of it was recyclable. “That’s with 10 sites, what if we had 20? 50?” Brown asked. Back at the landfill complex in Hernando County, Bruno is pessimistic about a similar transition locally, citing past experiences with an unattended recycling drop-off location in a Walmart parking lot. “People would drop off furniture, fish tanks, food, air conditioners,” Bruno said. “You name it, they dropped it off there.”
Bruno highlights the logistical differences in Hernando County’s program, which utilizes a contract with Republic Services for collections and hauling. Unlike municipalities that use one large container for curbside recycling, the county utilizes a dual-stream system. Residents are issued two bins, one for items like paper and cardboard, and the other for things like plastic and aluminum. The trucks Republic Services use are split in half to accommodate both types of material.
Additionally, the bins are open top, which enables the hauler to visually analyze the contents prior to acceptance. If contamination is discovered, the worker will refuse to accept it and attach a note explaining why. For Bruno, prolonging the life of the county’s landfill through increased recycling will pay dividends in the long run. “In those extra years, in my professional opinion, we’re going to see the next great thing happen,” Bruno said. “A major milestone or advancement in how we handle solid waste. Who knows, that might give us 100 years.”
Residents in unincorporated Hernando County that have their trash picked up by Republic Services must opt-in to the recycling program by calling (352) 540-6457. There is no additional cost to participate. Residents of the City of Brooksville should contact (352) 540-3810 for questions about recycling and garbage collection in the city limits.