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Sarasota Rallies for Recycling to Protect Community, Environment

SARASOTA, FLA.—The city and residents of Sarasota are serious about keeping marine debris off their coast and are taking important action to show it.

After launching a new single-stream carted recycling program this past spring, with the support of the national non-profit The Recycling Partnership, residents are recycling better and more often.

The Recycling Partnership is a non-profit that helps communities invest in systems that protect resources and empower residents to take action, such as recycling and picking up litter. In Sarasota, the organization helped provide 95-gallon carts with wheels and lids to replace 18-gallon, open-topped recycling bins.

“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 helped the City of Sarasota design and implement the new recycling program through the Coastal Communities and Waterways grant.

A community of 57,000 residents, located 60 miles south of Tampa on the Florida Gulf, Sarasota hosts a thriving tourism industry and unique recreational activities that make a clean, healthy environment a treasure worth protecting.

When Sarasota residents use their new recycling carts to capture more plastic and prevent litter, they’re saving more than just recyclables.

That’s according to Gretchen Lovewell, program manager at Mote Marine Laboratory on Sarasota Bay, home to some of the world’s most densely populated nesting areas for loggerhead sea turtles.

In 2015 Lovewell and her team “had a chance to glimpse a bunch of little baby sea turtles that had made it out to the weed line. Many of those animals had plastics in their stomachs.”

By 2050 there will be more marine debris than fish in the earth’s oceans, and 80 percent of marine debris comes from land-based sources, according to “Stemming the Tide: Land-Based Strategies for a Plastic-Free Report (McKinsey & Company and Ocean Conservancy, September 2015).”

Sobering statistics such as these highlight the importance of recycling materials before they become litter.

Recycling in closed-lidded carts helps to do just that.

Resident Christine Quigley likes the carts’ convenience: “They’re easy to fill and push to the curb. Even better, once they’re full, the material stays inside,” says Quigley, who walks through her neighborhood to work.

“I notice less trash now,” she says. “In the days after pickup, there (used to be) some litter in the street because it had been blown around.”

To address this type of litter, Quigley was among 130 volunteers who gathered on an early morning at Centennial Park with bright kayaks, black diving gear and repurposed grain bags. They floated, dove and walked the shoreline to remove 1,240 pounds of debris, 80 pounds of which was recycled.

Photos posted to the Keep Sarasota County Beautiful Facebook after the event revealed their harvest: Among the faded running shoes and left-behind children’s toys are lots and lots of beverages containers: aluminum cans and soda bottles, all of which belong in recycling carts.

“The future in Sarasota, because we’ve implemented this new single-stream recycling program, is that we’re going to be cleaner and more beautiful,” says sustainability manager Stevie Freeman-Montes, who helped breathe life into the program and surrounding events.

Sarasota solid waste division supervisor Jonathan Williamson and recycling driver Pito Ortega share similar sentiments, pointing to early recycling outcomes. Both say that program upgrades are helping more residents to recycle, and that more material is being recycled overall.

Plus, the new, automated recycling trucks make collection easier: No more throwing recyclables into the back of a truck, says Ortega. Instead, the truck’s arm, controlled with a joystick inside the cab, does the heavy lifting.

Freeman-Montes attributes these successes to improved recycling convenience as well as the public education that surrounded the roll-out.

“There is such a need for educational programs,” echoes Kirk Glaze, community affairs manager for The Coca-Cola Foundation, which has pledged $1 million to The Recycling Partnership’s Coastal Communities and Waterways Grant.

Funds are already at work in Sarasota, and The Recycling Partnership has several other coastal recycling projects currently underway in California, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. It’s worth noting that litter cleanups in these areas already have netted more than a ton of material, about 85 pounds of which has been recycled.

Sarasota resident Quigley, who works for the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, says she hopes that the city’s new recycling program will inspire residents to take even more responsibility for their community and environment.

The educators at Mote Marine Laboratory agree.

Biologist Amber Shaw emphasizes the importance of taking individual action, such as recycling, to help animals and people. As she puts it, “It’s just really important to pick up after ourselves.”