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Sarasota Coasts in for a Recycling Win: Education + Carts = High Participation, More Material and Less Contamination

coastal recyclingSARASOTA, FLA.—Participation and collection volumes are up, and contamination is notably low in Sarasota following a city-led recycling program reboot this spring that included amped-up education and new, 95-gallon single-stream carts, supported by the national non-profit, The Recycling Partnership.

The Recycling Partnership puts private dollars to work, helping communities invest in systems that protect resources and empower residents to take sustainable action. Through a $1 million donation from the Coca-Cola Foundation, The Partnership recently opened its first Coastal Communities and Waterways Grant.

The Coca-Cola Foundation has a long history of supporting and protecting waterways and watersheds through recycling and other activities, according to Kirk Glaze, community affairs manager.

“Our goal in focusing on coastal communities, is to develop and strengthen residential recycling where the absence of recycling carts can lead to blowing litter that directly impacts our oceans,” says Alita Kane, community liaison for The Recycling Partnership, which will provide recycling assistance to coastal communities across the nation through the new grant program.

Sarasota by the Numbers

  • 57,000 Residents
  • 15,000 Households
  • 18 Months Recycling Program Inception to Launch
  • 75% Recycling Participation
  • 71% More Recycling Volume*
  • 100% Sustainable Sarasota by 2045**

One of the first communities to be awarded a grant, Sarasota is an ideal location for implementation of carted recycling.  A community of 57,000 residents, located 60 miles south of Tampa on the Florida Gulf, Sarasota hosts a thriving tourism industry, unique recreational activities and ample opportunity to learn about the local waters and the life that depends upon them.  Most of all, Sarasota has a staff that was ready to take on the project.

“We thought we had some good ideas … but getting The Recycling Partnership’s input and experience really enabled us,” says Jonathan Williamson, solid waste division supervisor for the City of Sarasota. Williamson notes that the new program took about 18 months from inception to launch.

Since collection with the new, closed-lidded carts began April 1, about 75 percent of households have been participating in the program, which collects every other week, Williamson says.

Recycling volume is up too—about 71 percent over a year ago, according to Jeff Vredenburg, sustainability program educator for the City of Sarasota.

Vredenburg echoes the sentiment that carts are certainly easier and better for residents, and they’re making a difference for city staff responsible for collection, as well.

For them, the biggest change was getting used to maneuvering the new recycling trucks, which pick up the carts with a robotic “arm” controlled by a joystick inside the cab. The arm saves drivers from exiting the truck in busy traffic and relieves them of the heavy-lifting and general mess of handling bins by hand.

“The one arm is doing the work for you,” says City of Sarasota Recycling Driver Pito Ortega, who doesn’t miss riding on the back of the old recycling truck and manually throwing material into it.

Ortega calls the new system “more efficient and much cleaner,” and says that it “definitely benefits the city” in terms of productivity.

Plus, he says, he’s safer—not an insignificant change, especially in light of recent statistics that place refuse collection among the top five most dangerous occupations in the United States, according to the Solid Waste Association of North America.

Another win? “We are also getting feedback from (the place) where we are hauling our recyclable material that it is very clean,” says Stevie Freeman-Montes, the city’s sustainability manager.

Freeman-Montes attributes these successes to the robust recycling education taking place around the transition. While the city already had single-stream recycling, it had been using 18-gallon bins before switching to two-wheeled carts.  The additional funds and technical assistance provided by The Recycling Partnership’s grant allowed Sarasota to ramp up recycling education.

Vredenburg agrees. “A lot of (the success) is due to these new recycling (carts) and the work we’ve done with The Recycling Partnership to get information out to the community,” he says.

The roll-out also included community events and cleanups to bring attention not only to recycling, but also to the ways that better recycling and decreased litter are connected. Education also connected the dots to how clean and beautiful waterways in Sarasota influence the community’s financial health by way of a healthy tourism industry and ample opportunity for outdoor recreation.

“If we keep the environment clean, it has a vast impact on business. We rely on the environment here. It’s what we do. It’s what we have to offer,” says Eleftheria Tahkouli, who co-manages Blu Kouzina with Spyros Skellos. Blu Kouzina is a modern Mediterranean restaurant that attracts tourists and residents.

Skellos says that sustainable actions—including recycling, eliminating drinking straws and using compostable to-go containers—not only benefits the environment, but also reflects what diners have come to expect, and therefore is good for business.

“Step by step … each of us must do what we can do,” says Skellos. “Starting with recycling, but we must do many, many other things.”

As Sarasota Mayor Liz Alpert puts it, “We’ve got this beautiful bay here that we need to protect. If we’re not keeping that clean, then everything we’re doing here in Sarasota just will fall apart.”

The new, improved recycling program in Sarasota is part of the city’s long-term sustainability planning — the goal of which is a 100-percent sustainable Sarasota by 2045.

“The future in Sarasota, because we’ve implemented this new recycling single-stream recycling program, is that we’re going to be cleaner and more beautiful,” says City of Sarasota Sustainability Manager Freeman-Montes. “It’s going to help raise awareness about recycling and waste reduction strategies overall.”

*April 2019 compared to April 2018 recycling collection. **City of Sarasota sustainability plan goal.