Recycling and sustainable waste management has been a long standing goal for the City of Miami Beach and many municipalities around the nation. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that Americans generate about 254 million tons of trash per year, of which only 87 million tons is recycled. This is equivalent to a 34.4% recycling rate that helps reduce approximately 186 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually and is comparable to removing 39 million cars off the road for a year. Moreover, increasing recycling rates helps reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators; conserving natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals; preventing pollution by reducing the need to collect new raw materials; reducing energy consumption; sustaining the environment; and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
The Environment and Sustainability Department recently completed the first city-wide recycling assessment. The assessment reviewed recycling within commercial and residential properties, government offices, special events, the public right of way, parks/parks facilities, as well as parking garages. In addition to addressing education, policy and interdepartmental issues, the assessment verified that there’s an important need to improve upon current bin designs, messaging, and education throughout the city in order to reduce contamination and increase recycling rates.
The assessment found that the city has over 2,500 recycling and trash bins in 23 different styles throughout public areas and the right of way. This demonstrates shows a need for collaborative effort when purchasing as well as choosing bins in future projects and initiatives. Studies carried out by organizations such as Keep America Beautiful suggest that there are guidelines that can be followed by municipalities to improve recycling rates within public areas. Attachment A provides an outline of how bin design and location is vital to this effort.
Moreover, understanding human behavior is an important part of establishing a successful recycling program for the public areas. Two factors that must be taken into consideration are the convenience and simplicity of a program. It is important to first design recycling options that are easily accessible to the recycler. This should be followed by providing adequate information that would help guide the public in understanding what is recyclable. Based on the observation of overall recycling practices within the public areas and research on what other organizations/cities have done, it is highly recommended that above guidelines be considered and applied to help improve recycling rates within Miami Beach.
The Sanitation Department recently conducted a one-time survey of select bins in high traffic areas of the city. This survey allowed for glimpse of the effectiveness and contamination rates of certain bins throughout the city. It was found that the bin with the lowest amount of contamination rates was the die cut dual bin design due to its ideal bin design. However, the rate of contamination was at 50% indicating that there is still sufficient room for improvement. Providing a consistent design and messaging will help to promote recycling and litter reduction.
The city is already working with the county to improve waste reduction and recycling on the beach. The city has launched a pilot program with the county and deployed special recycling bins with lids from Government Cut to 14th Street. The program has been a success thus far and city staff is now working with the county to expand the program to other areas of the beach while addressing challenges such as increasing the number of recycling containers, pick up frequency, and locating funding for additional bins and labor costs. At the June 6, 2018 Commission meeting, resolution 2018-30345 was adopted urging Miami-Dade County to expand the program in the upcoming fiscal year.
The recycling industry and market is constantly changing. For example, China has recently banned the importation of non-industrial plastic which created an additional obstacle for managing waste and recycling programs. As a result of this industry change, waste haulers have now lowered the allowable percentage of contamination within recycling containers and certain items may no longer be recyclable. Actions such as these demonstrate the importance of improving waste management programs at a local level through consistency, simplified messaging and outreach.