The proper management of solid waste is a critical component of a community’s infrastructure and contributes significantly to the overall quality of life. Local governments have the challenge of managing waste collection and disposal, which is among the costliest of municipal services.  Amid a rapidly growing population, waste management issues are becoming increasingly crucial for the promotion of environmental sustainability.

Waste has been a major environmental issue everywhere since the industrial revolution. The material goods that we humans rely on so much almost always end up as waste. Floridians generate approximately 9.12 pounds per person per day on average in 2014 for Florida residents, according to the Solid Waste Management in Florida 2014 Annual Report from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.[1]  Multiply this by the population of each community and that is what local government leaders are up against every day. Waste handling is becoming more expensive because of increased volume and the need for more landfill capacity, tighter regulations for landfills, recycling mandates, and unstable markets for recyclable materials. The careful planning and implementation of solid waste management programs have become high priorities for government and industry.

The conventional approach of solid waste management has been to manage the removal of the solid waste discards from the immediate vicinity of human settlements. This resulted in a highly mechanized system of collection and transportation of waste to bury in local landfills or transport the waste to other communities. As populations increase, landfills reach capacity and newer facilities remain costly and are increasingly difficult to site. In addition to capacity limitations, local landfills account for approximately 26% of total methane emissions for the U.S. as a whole according to the Environmental Protection Agency. With a radiative forcing factor of about 21 times that of CO2, methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

With an ever increasing volume of waste, the traditional method of solid waste management is not sustainable. Therefore, the focus of waste management has shifted from “efficient removal and disposal” to waste avoidance, minimization and recycling options.  Sustainable waste management aims to address the long term consequences of waste disposal through the recovery, recycling, and reuse of resources, and reducing waste streams. This includes the management of resources in an environmentally sound and economically effective manner.

In 2008, the Florida Legislature enacted House Bill 7135, which created Section 403.7032, Florida Statutes. This established a new statewide recycling goal of 50% for 2014 and 75% to be achieved by 2020. Also, the statute directed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to develop a program designed to achieve this goal and submit it to the Legislature for approval. FDEP submitted its 75% Reduction Report in January 2010.  According to the FDEP 2014 Solid Waste Report, Florida’s average recycling rate in 2014 was 50%, well above the 40% target rate specified in the Florida Statute. Eighteen counties led the way with recycling rates in 2014 between 50% and 70%. As of January 1, 2015, the Department also recognized 29 businesses and other organization with recycling rate of at least 50%. At least 20 state, county and city governmental agencies reported a 2013 recycling rate of at least 50%.

Additionally, Florida’s Community Planning Act (Chapter 163, Part II, Florida Statutes) requires that each local government in Florida prepare and adopt and Comprehensive Plan, which must include “a general sanitary sewer, solid waste, drainage, potable water, and natural groundwater aquifer recharge element (Section 163.3177(6)(c), F.S.). Best practices for addressing sustainable solid waste management should include a waste audit.  This is audit is a crucial first step in reducing the flow of waste. It can identify opportunities for waste diversion, prevention and reduction, and increasing recycling. Review historic data to determine how much is being thrown out, how much is being recycled and any other programs that your community may have in place. It’s also helpful to document the cost associated with disposal and reduction programs.

Based on these requirements, all of Florida’s local governments’ comprehensive plans comprehensive plan must have the goal of reducing the amount of trash that enters the waste stream. Solutions include programs that encourage recycling and reusing materials, increasing composting of organic waste and turning waste into usable energy. More communities are looking at their waste stream as a potential source of energy. The term waste-to-energy is used for many different types of projects, including capturing landfill methane for electricity generation or fuel use, diverting organics for processing in anaerobic digesters, or converting waste vegetable oil into biodiesel.

The terms reuse and recycle have specific meanings, but they are often confused, switched, and misused, especially in commerce. Recycling is using waste as material to manufacture a new product. Recycling involves altering the physical form of an object or material and making a new object from the altered material. With recycling, you generally need to collect a material, transport it, clean and sort it, transform it into a new product, package the product, and market the product. Making a product out of recycled materials is better than using raw materials

Reuse is not recycling because reuse does not alter the physical form of an object. Reuse is using an object or material again, either for its original purpose or for a similar purpose. Reuse prevents objects and material from becoming waste and is considered to be a form of waste reduction or prevention. Reuse is preferred to recycling because reuse consumes less energy and resources than recycling. Additionally, reuse programs can save communities the cost and GHG emissions of landfilling or combusting usable wastes. Reuse programs employ a variety of practices to publicize and motivate reuse, and to make reuse easier for both waste sources and re-users.

One exception to the normal preference of reuse to the purchasing new items might be some appliances. It is often environmentally preferable to replace very old refrigerators, clothes washers, clothes dryers, or central heating and air conditioning units with new appliances if given a choice between repair and replacement, because the amount of energy (and water, in the case of clothes washers) used to operate some older appliances is substantially more than the amount used to operate new appliances. Of course attempts should be made when replacing appliances to have the metal in the discarded appliances recycled.