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State report shows Hernando lags in recycling effort

Toss it. Pitch it. Dump it. Chuck it.

All describe the disposal of stuff.

And all of these phrases, no surprise, sound a lot like other expressions — "the heck with it" being one of the more polite examples — that mean we don't care.

Throwing something away is often a shortcut.

It means you don't want to make the effort to repair a no-longer-useful item, or take it to a thrift store, or, most appropriately for this discussion, recycle it.

It means you can't be bothered to put certain kinds of refuse — cans and newspapers, for example — into a separate recycling bin or bag rather than a garbage can and maybe take it to the curb on a different day.

It's an act of apathy and, yes, of laziness.

That's a strong word, I know. But there's really no other way to read the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's annual report on recycling rates, released last week under a headline that tried to make the results sound like good news: "Recycling Rates in Florida Continue to Climb."

As soon as you start to dig beneath the surface of this report, however, you find that there's really not much good here at all.

The state has a goal to recycle 75 percent of its solid waste by 2020. Any progress made in inching toward this standard in 2013, when the rate rose to 38 percent compared to 35 percent in 2012, can mostly be chalked up to one factor: The construction industry was a busier last year, which means more buildings were torn down, which means more materials such as concrete blocks and lumber were reused — or even burned to generate energy — rather than being dumped in landfills.

It doesn't mean most of us have become any more responsible about recycling, especially not in Hernando.

The county's overall recycling rate in 2013 was 25 percent, or 13 percentage points below the state average. This means that after decades of being told about the need to recycle, we are one-third of the way to a goal we're expected to reach in six years.

That this rate didn't budge from the year before means we're making zero progress in reaching the state's goal. And by another important measure of recycling — pounds recycled, per person, per day — we're steadily backsliding.

This number has dropped every year since 2009 and is lower than in any county in the state with a population of more than 100,000, lower even than plenty of rural counties where sparse population makes recycling tougher. Then there's the really discouraging statistic, the one that says people don't understand the need to recycle, or are unwilling to make even the slight effort required to do so.

Only 17 percent of households in Hernando — fewer than one in every five — participate in curbside recycling, even though it is available to every trash collection customer in the county.

Look, it all might not be quite as bad as these numbers make it appear. They are estimates as much as measurements, and the rules for compiling them are almost as full of loopholes as corporate tax codes.

Still, the overall picture is an embarrassment, a shame, really, considering the consequences of our current practice: thoughtlessly putting unwanted stuff in one hole in the earth so we have to dig or pump more new stuff out of other holes.

Obviously, that can't go on forever, and making people understand that fact is one key to getting people to recycle. Making it easy is another.

The county has done a better job in expanding service than in educating people how to recycle and why they should do so.

There is, however, hope for improvement on both fronts. Single-stream recycling, which lets people put all recyclables in one bin, will become available next spring. And county staffers are asking for funding for a recycling coordinator, whose job will include spreading the word about recycling.

After that, it will be on us. All we'll have to do is care.

State report shows Hernando lags in recycling effort 07/17/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 17, 2014 9:14am]
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