Collier County business recycling initiative: Building partnerships and benefiting the bottom line

George Yilmaz, Ph.D., P.E., Director, and Denise Kirk, Waste Reduction and Recycling Manager, Collier County Solid Waste Management Department, Naples, Florida
Daniel Dietch, Project Manager, Malcolm Pirnie, Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Faced with a "no new landfill" directive issued by its Board of County Commissioners, Collier County, Florida was looking for innovative solid waste management solutions to maximize the limited capacity available at its Naples Landfill. An obvious solution was to reduce the amount of waste landfilled by enhancing current recycling programs and developing new ones that would not only decrease the waste stream requiring disposal, but might also help to reduce disposal costs paid by waste generators.

The County quickly put into action an enhanced residential recycling program with the goal of increased recycling volume and participation. Since the program began, the residential recycling rate has increased by about six percent.

"Our goal is to conserve landfill space by diverting as much recyclable materials as possible," said Denise Kirk, Collier County's Waste Reduction and Recycling Manager, "but residential recycling is just the beginning."

Commercial recycling initiative
In March 2001, the board directed the Solid Waste Management Department to develop a mandatory commercial recycling ordinance with the goal of increasing recycling participation among the business community. With clear board direction, the department turned its attention to commercial waste generators, which account for more than 60 percent of all waste generated in the County. According to Kirk, this sector represented an opportunity to significantly reduce the amount of recyclable materials currently landfilled, since the County's commercial recycling participation rate hovers near six percent.

Many businesses already recycle because it makes economic sense, and a robust recycling market exists in the County, including more than 20 recycling companies providing recycling services for nearly 20 waste stream components. However, the effective commercial recycling rate is low. To increase participation, the County contracted Malcolm Pirnie, Inc. to evaluate the impacts of enacting an ordinance targeting commercial waste generators.

Early on the County recognized that engaging the business community would be an integral part of developing a mandatory commercial recycling ordinance, and during the summer of 2001 the Solid Waste Management Department sought out the advice of the Greater Naples Area Chamber of Commerce (GNACC). By opening the lines of communication early in the process, the department was able to involve local businesses in developing the proposed ordinance and better understanding the concerns of the business community. Based on feedback from the GNACC, the department initiated a pilot study to better characterize the impacts of mandating recycling to businesses.

The pilot program, conducted between November 2001 and January 2002, included four local businesses. After conferring with the GNACC for recommendations, the County selected Collier County Counseling, Huff Moving, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and B.T. Boomers to participate in the study. To reduce any financial barriers to participation, the County financed the cost of the recycling service for the duration of the pilot program.

A preliminary benefit/cost analysis was performed for the program with the goal of providing a clearer understanding of first-order costs to businesses. The County wanted to determine if reducing the amount of trash each business generated by recycling a portion of the trash would ultimately offset the costs of recycling. Prior to implementation of the study, waste service costs for the participants ranged from $80 a year for the smaller businesses to almost $7,000 a year for the larger businesses.

  Entrance to the Naples Recycling Center

Preliminary data from the pilot project indicated that the proposed ordinance would result in cost savings for most businesses unless they were unable to contract for reduced garbage service. Three of the four businesses in the program realized cost savings ranging from $400 to $1,000. The exception was Collier County Counseling, which cannot contract for less garbage service. For this business, the proposed ordinance would have resulted in an additional cost of almost $57 per year. Collier County Counseling instead elected to self-haul cardboard to a County drop-off recycling facility.

"Because our landlord pays for disposal, it was going to cost us money to recycle," says Deann Miller, Director of Collier County Counseling.

Based on discussions with pilot project participants, the program has not had any adverse impacts on business operations. In many cases, due to safety concerns, materials were already sorted inside the establishment. Initial feedback has also indicated that most will continue recycling.

"It keeps our office clean. We have everyone participate and it's saving us money on our disposal costs, even with the extra expense of paying for recycling pickup," said Paula Springs, Account Manager for Huff Moving.

In addition to the direct financial benefits to businesses, there are also direct benefits for the County—an increase in commercial recycling will reduce the volume of waste requiring land disposal. Depending on the level of participation, over the next five years the County could preserve up to 30,000 cubic yards of landfill capacity, which translates to more than $1.2 million in avoided disposal costs. These benefits also have long-term implications—while current landfill tipping fees are low in comparison to other Florida counties, it is anticipated that disposal costs will increase significantly in the future as landfill capacity diminishes. Based on these figures, more recycling in the near term will result in lower disposal cost increases in the future.

Current status
The proposed ordinance, which incorporated many of the comments received from interested citizens and business groups such as the GNACC, was presented to the board for adoption on May 28, 2002. Although the board voted to postpone adopting the proposed ordinance, they did decide to instead allow commercial recycling to continue on a voluntary basis for 18 months, using the framework of the proposed ordinance for guidance.

  The Phase III working face at the Naples Landfill

In the meantime, the department has been working closely with the GNACC to develop and implement a marketing plan to inform and educate County businesses about the benefits of recycling. The GNACC and the department have also jointly identified recycling indicators to track recycling participation and diversion under the voluntary framework. The GNACC and the department have been updating the board on their progress at six-month intervals. While progress, based on the recycling indicators, has been modest, it is envisioned that the planned effort over the first 12 months will yield positive results during the last six-month reporting period. With the trial period set to expire in December 2003, the board is currently planning to assess the voluntary program at that time and provide further direction to the department.

George Yilmaz can be reached at (239) 732-2508 or at GeorgeYilmaz@colliergov.net; Denise Kirk can be reached at (239) 732-2508 or at DeniseKirk@colliergov.net; and Daniel Dietch can be reached at (954) 761-3460 or at ddietch@pirnie.com.