- Waste Management has reversed plans to cut paper recycling for 14 cities in Broward County, Florida following local outrage. The Sun-Sentinel reported on the company's sudden change of course, announced on Friday.
- In letters sent to each city, Waste Management previously said it would end mixed-paper recycling beginning Aug. 1 for most areas, citing declining market values and contamination. The company said more than 400 bales of mixed paper from one MRF in Pembroke Pines were incinerated last winter due to contamination levels.
- Dawn McCormick, a spokesperson for Waste Management, confirmed to Waste Dive that conversations with customers and local officials swayed the decision. "We continue to work diligently to find markets for mixed paper," she said. Contaminated items that can't be recycled will likely be sent to one of two nearby incinerators owned by Wheelabrator or the Palm Beach County Solid Waste Authority.
Waste Management's presence in Broward has been a source of controversy for some time and the county has recently been looking to take control of its local waste systems. Last year, Broward County commissioners recommended an integrated waste plan requiring buy-in from affected cities and the creation of a new taxing district. The Broward County Solid Waste and Recycling Working Group has been focusing on that goal, which could end Waste Management's hold in the area built in part through prior acquisitions.
The county is the second-most populous in Florida, with about 2 million residents. High contamination rates are an issue in Broward — Waste Management said contamination is around 30% due to people putting trash in their recycling — resulting in much of it going to either a landfill or incinerator.
Fort Lauderdale was among the cities that would have been impacted by Waste Management's decision. The other 13 were Coconut Creek, Coral Springs, Deerfield Beach, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Lauderhill, Lighthouse Point, Margate, North Lauderdale, Oakland Park, Pembroke Park, Plantation, Tamarac, and Wilton Manors, per the Sun-Sentinel.
The Broward County Commission did not respond to a request for comment from Waste Dive by publishing time. But the county government backs the working group, which has said Waste Management's decision won't change the long-term goal of establishing an independent system.
Mixed paper markets are likely to remain a challenge regardless, given the multi-year shift to expanding domestic capacity after international options narrowed. A 2018 residential mixed paper feasibility study commissioned by Florida's Department of Environmental Protection found "real, but limited opportunities for increased use" of the products at existing paper mills in the state. Prepared by Southern Waste Information eXchange Inc. and Moore & Associates, the report focused on potential markets for residential mixed paper as part of larger efforts to analyze waste and recycling opportunities in Florida. Brown towel production in particular was highlighted as a potential end-use for mixed paper, even though quality levels were noted as a barrier.
Contamination levels remain a serious concern in Broward County, Waste Management's McCormick said. "It's challenging for us," she said, asserting the company has the rights within its contract to remove mixed paper recycling.
With Waste Management now changing course, the company will continue to work with residents in an effort to lower contamination rates, McCormick said. An industry-backed bill awaiting Gov. Ron DeSantis' signature, which would specify new contract terms for contamination, could play a future role in that effort.
Municipalities in Alaska, Idaho, Hawaii, Kentucky, and other states have cut or suspended mixed paper in their programs, among other materials, following China's 2017 announcement of new scrap import policies.
Despite declining markets, many areas are still holding onto their paper programs, including several in Florida. McCormick said there are no plans "at this time" to end mixed paper recycling in other Broward County municipalities. Palm Beach County has said none of its cities plan to end its mixed paper options, while Miami-Dade County's contract does not allow for the option of dropping it.