Five years ago, the state Legislature enacted a bill establishing a new statewide recycling goal putting the state on a track where by 2020, 75 percent of everything that currently goes into community landfills would instead be turned into materials that could be used again.
According to estimates provided by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 22 counties, including most in the Tampa Bay area, already have surpassed a DEP benchmark by recycling more than 40 percent of their annual solid waste each year.
So where do Hernando County's recycling efforts stand? Those same state figures show the county dismally lagging behind that goal. Just 24 percent of the solid waste collected annually is recycled, ranking the county 26th among the state's 67 counties, and behind its neighbors to the south and north — Pasco, which is ranked sixth, and Citrus, which is ranked 25th.
Ron Henricks, the DEP recycling manager, said Hernando's numbers are disappointing, especially considering that they include "recycling credits" offered to the county for its operation of a waste-to-energy system that turns landfill gas into electric power.
"For a county its size, Hernando should be doing better," Henricks said. "The fact that they are behind brings some concern that they may not be able to reach the 2020 goal."
Scott Harper, the county's solid waste services manager, doesn't think Hernando's numbers are all that bad, and believes the county has made positive headway since the state mandate was introduced.
"What those numbers don't say is that there are 41 counties that aren't doing as well as us," Harper said. "We're constantly working on ways to improve recycling and make it easier for residents to participate in it."
City of Brooksville sanitation director Mike McQuown agreed, saying that participation in the city's curbside recycling program has increased 50 percent since a single-stream collection system was introduced 10 months ago, allowing residents to place all of their recyclables in one large plastic bag rather than separating plastics, newspapers, cans and other material.
"We've noticed also that we're picking up more recyclables at every stop," McQuown said.
Harper said that while Republic Services, the garbage collection company that now serves most of the county, has expressed interest in starting single-stream recycling, he doesn't know when the program might be launched. He added that all future garbage contracts in the county will include a requirement that the company offer single-stream recycling to its customers.
"Having it available to everyone will take a lot of material out of the landfill," Harper said. "There's conservation of natural resources. I really don't think you can find a downside to it."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.