While visiting family in Pembroke Pines, I was surprised to learn that the city stopped offering traditional residential recycling and opted to send it all — trash and recyclables combined — to incineration starting on Jan. 2, 2022.

The letter sent to Pembroke Pines residents tries to ease residents’ concerns by stating that “by Florida statute, the incineration of refuse materials to make energy is considered recycling.”

That is a bit misleading since the letter fails to explain that incineration is considered recycling in Florida for the purpose of accumulating credits toward the state’s goal of reaching a 75% recycling rate by 2020, which, according to Florida DEP’s 2021 Solid Waste Management Annual Report, we have failed to achieve anyway.

Generally, traditional recycling is the process of removing materials from the waste stream that can serve as raw material for making new products.

So if waste continues to be generated and materials can still be recovered, why shut down a traditional recycling program?

As many other cities and counties, like Deltona in 2019, the city of Pembroke Pines announced that the recycling transition was due to “the global recycling market and contamination issues.”

Residents can do little about the recycling market — other than buy recycled products — but can do a lot about contamination.

Contamination is caused by what is known as wishcycling, placing trash and non-recyclable items in the recycle bin, mixed with actual recyclables, hoping that all can be recycled. Well, it cannot!

As a practice, wishcycling diminishes the quality of the load or completely voids its recyclability, and raises the costs of the recycling process. In some areas, like Deerfield Beach, the rate of contamination has reached nearly 50%, destining collected material to the landfill.

Combating contamination has become a high priority since the tightening of the recycling markets triggered by stricter standards set by China in 2018 for the import of recyclables. To make recycling viable, we need providers and participants to do a better job.

Providers — cities, counties and haulers, have greatly improved the information put out to the general public, but there is always room for additional improvement. That may include having an updated list of accepted items constantly in circulation, shared with partners and available where people can easily find; having a solid, unified message and a set of guidelines employed by all team members when addressing common questions and highlighting frequent mistakes.

Participants, on the other hand, can do a better job of reviewing what is actually accepted by the curb recycling program in the area where we live, making sure to only add those items to the recycle bin. If unsure, we must stick to the rule of recycling only clean, empty and dry items, and to the basic materials, like beverage and food cans, plastic bottles, newspaper, magazines and cardboard.

Unfortunately, contamination is a global issue and not a problem limited to curb recycling. Other programs offered by organizations like Recycle Brevard suffer from the same malady.

Recycle Brevard’s programs include the recycling of hard-to-recycle materials and the storage of unwanted items in reusable conditions that could be reused in art, craft, school and science projects. The list of acceptable items is available on RecycleBrevard.org but that seems to be often ignored and what ends up being dropped off is frequently loads of unusable and non-recyclable items.

By sticking to what can be accepted or reaching out when in doubt, everyone wins — more can be diverted from the landfills and recycling programs may have a chance to continue on.

Less in this case could indeed mean more.

Email Marcia Booth at Marcia@RecycleBrevard.org

Recycle Brevard is an independent nonprofit organization 100% run by volunteers focused on reducing waste and promoting sustainable living.