The switch signals a utility rate increase for residents of the unincorporated county areas.
With an eye toward cutting costs and increasing efficiency, Sarasota County officials have decided to pursue a new means of collecting and processing recyclable materials in unincorporated areas.
The county’s recycling system runs as a dual-stream operation with residents using two bins to separate cardboard or paper items from glass, plastic and metal.
Now, however, the county is looking to follow Sarasota, North Port and Venice and switch to a single-stream recycling system. Not only will all recyclable materials be collected and processed together, but residents will also be given one collection cart, replacing the bins. The cost of the new cart is included in the county’s contract with Waste Management. The switch is expected to occur in January.
Brian Usher, Sarasota County’s solid waste collection manager, said there are several reasons for the switch, including quality control and driver safety. But ultimately, it’s a matter of contract negotiations and cost-recovery.
“The current processor is a dual-stream processor,” Usher said of the current agreement with Resource Recovery Systems LLC. “That processor agreement was ending [in September], and they did not wish to continue. So we had to look for other options, and there weren’t any other dual-stream options in the area.”
Mike Mylett, the interim director of Sarasota County Public Utilities, said that now county leaders aim to negotiate a contract with Single Stream Recyclers LLC, which submitted a bid to the county in November 2018.
The switch also becomes more cost-effective for the county.
Both Usher and Mylett said the current recycling market has seen an overall decrease in value, which makes it harder to maintain an efficient system at an affordable rate. Operation costs have continued to increase on an annual basis, which renders the dual-stream system financially unsustainable, Mylett said.
In fiscal year 2017, Sarasota County made $93 per ton of processed and marketed recycling material. At that time, it paid $52 per ton to complete that operation. By fiscal year 2019, that cost-effective model had turned upside down. The county now makes $58 per ton while paying $177.
Meanwhile, SSR has proposed a lower processing rate of $125 per ton, which leads officials to believe the switch will help them break even on recycling costs by fiscal year 2022 and pave the way to long-term cost-recovery.
Although the county might see costs go down as a result of the switch, residents of the unincorporated county areas will see the change reflected in a higher monthly utility bill.
“In order to compensate for these increased expenses that the district is experiencing, staff has proposed to split the increase with the 7% for trash collection and then include a 10% increase to cover our recycling expenses,” Mylett told commissioners at a June budget workshop. “That increase works out to $2.26 a month for the average single-family homeowner.”
Annually, a single-family homeowner who pays $159 per year for trash and recycling services will end up paying $186 per year under the currently proposed budget. These expenses are not yet finalized.
But Usher believes residents will ultimately still be happy.
“We’re really excited to be bringing this to the public,” he said. “I think they’re going to enjoy the efficiency in collection, and there will be some litter prevention, as well.”