Lee County surpasses recycling rate, becomes one of three counties in Florida to meet goal of 75 percent

July 17, 2020
By Olivia Cameron

BY OLIVIA CAMERON- Lee County established an 80 percent recycling rate in 2019, 5 percent higher than the original goal set for 2020. And now Lee County’s recycling participation has increased from the previous recorded rate of 77 percent.
The County has recycled approximately 1.8 million tons of the 2.27 million tons of recycled material collected locally. As stated by Lee County Government Communications Director Betsy Clayton, that’s enough to fill 138 football fields as high as the Sanibel Causeway bridge.
Lee County Solid Waste continues to keep local residents informed on waste management solutions. The recycling increase is credited to curbside recycling of residents’ waste as well as that of businesses recycling materials that do not fit into that category, from scrap metal to demolition debris.
Lee County Solid Waste Director Doug Whitehead recognized the effect that an improved recycling rate has had on their efforts to keep the community invested. “We are very proud of being the best in the state. It required years of work by the entire team,” he said.
With the remaining 20 percent, there is room to improve. Lee County Solid Waste reminds residents to recycle only paper, metal, cardboard, plastic and glass. Throwing anything other than that in the recycling cart can be expensive and ineffective. Something that you hope can be recycled but doesn’t belong in the cart is called a “wish-cycled” item. These items end up being transported to the Material Recovery Facility, sorted, rejected, transported again and disposed of.
“When food waste ends up in curbside recycling, it is problematic, as it creates a great deal of contamination,” said Whitehead. “It is important to keep it out of the recycling bin. Putting wet, messy garbage in your recycling bin can contaminate your neighbors’ material, possibly leading to landfilling.”
Whitehead encourages residents to use materials wisely. “It all begins with the residents producing less waste. For example, when someone does a home project and they do not over-purchase on supplies. Every Lee County waste stream has a recycling and reuse program. There is some opportunity to extract more recyclables from curbside recycling, but no major leap.”
Materials that disrupt the recycling process include items like hoses, wires, clothing, toys and hangers. Instead of throwing away the items not in use, donate them to a good cause.
Lee County Solid Waste has invested their time in spreading awareness of incorrect recycling habits. Lee County is one of just three counties in Florida that have met the recycling goal of 75 percent this year. 
“Each county has different challenges, but all have dedicated professionals working to reduce waste. Lee County has invested in robust equipment and infrastructure to handle all materials at a low cost to the residents,” Whitehead said. 
The Environmental Protection Agency has calculated the amount of garbage Americans produce to be about one ton per person each year. This statistic was generated to compare the amount of trash we have to the number of people in the U.S. Instead of piling waste onto the landfill, there is another way to dispose of used products so that they don’t end up in the ocean.
“Lee County is making every effort, but that last 20 percent is very challenging,” said Whitehead. “The County will continue to educate the public about recycling properly and reinvest in equipment as it is replaced.”
For more information or ways to reduce waste, visit leegov.com/solidwaste.