Last June, the Miami-Dade County Department of Solid Waste Management celebrated the first anniversary of our single-stream curbside recycling program. Just a few weeks later, we proudly reported to our customers and local and industry media that a record-breaking 5,600 tons of recyclables had been collected during the month of June. This was the highest tonnage ever collected since Miami-Dade County started its curbside recycling effort in 1990. This announcement of our program’s first year of success and record-breaking tonnage has had many in the industry asking us questions like “What’s your secret?” and “How are you experiencing such success during a down economy?”
Several factors have enabled Miami-Dade County to produce the kind of newsworthy results that we’ve reported.
First, we started by giving our curbside recycling program a makeover. Beginning in 1990, the dual-stream recycling program was originally popular among our residents but in recent years had begun to experience less enthusiastic participation. Each household had been given two 18-gallon bins—one for separation of glass, aluminum, steel, aseptic packages and plastic bottles bearing the 1, 2, or 3 recycling symbol, and the other for newspapers, corrugated cardboard, and household batteries. While the two-bin program was “state-of-the-art” back in the ’90s, declining tonnages and set-out rates were an indication that our residents were not fully satisfied with the program. The county’s 2005 Customer Satisfaction Surveyindicated that only 27% of survey participants were very satisfied with the dual-stream service. We recognized that we had the potential to achieve a greater satisfaction rate among our citizens; all we needed was a new program that would satisfy our customers’ desire for a more convenient program and an opportunity to expand the kinds of material collected.
With these needs in mind, we crafted a request for proposals for a comprehensive new recycling program that could include anything from automated cart service to expanded material collection to drop-off programs. After much deliberation, we recommended that we move to a new single-stream program that we firmly believed would increase residential participation and divert more material from disposal into our landfill and waste-to-energy facility. Approved in February 2008, the program provides for every-other-week collection of glass, aluminum, steel, narrow-neck plastics, aseptic packaging, newspaper, corrugated cardboard, and new types of recyclable paper, including junk mail, office paper, magazines, catalogs, and paperboard packaging. Two private vendors provide every-other-week collection services in three zones throughout the county. Moving from weekly collection to every-other-week service has allowed us to keep the cost of service delivery at an affordable, per-household price. At the same time, we’ve been able to reduce the carbon footprint associated with the delivery of this popular and highly visible environmental effort.
Service implementation had to be aggressive because the contract for dual-stream service (and associated options to renew) had expired; the county was paying for service on a month-to-month basis with the dual-stream vendor. We launched the phased delivery of wheeled carts to our 320,000 waste collection customers on June 30, 2008, using several contracted vendors and departmental staff at times. At the same time, we negotiated with municipalities in the county and were able to partner with the same 11 cities that previously participated in our single-steam recycling program through interlocal agreements to include an additional 20,000 households in the program. Other municipalities have expressed interest but have not yet committed. By January 2009, all 340,000 residences in these areas had the ability to recycle using the new single-stream program.
Our initial public education efforts took advantage of the “go green” movement. We adopted the theme “Easy on the Earth, Easy on You” to highlight the ease, convenience, and environmental friendliness of the new single-steam program. Web-based, direct-mail, and directly delivered public information materials were created to smooth the transition to the simpler single-stream program. The publications emphasized that no sorting was required and that there was no need to lug heavy bins to the curb every week. We worked closely with our county’s Enterprise Technology Department to use GIS technology in the development of the most efficient service routes for the recycling vendors. Additionally, our Public Information and Outreach Division worked with the county’s Government Information Center to fast-track the development of an online application allowing residents to determine when their new cart would be delivered and the start date for the new service. The online tools continue to provide residents with the ability to view and download their specific recycling calendar and to sign up for recycling alerts on the county’s Web portal. The alerts send e-mails to residents to remind them the night before their recycling day. This is a popular online subscription service.
Providing our customers with choices has been another area that has been critical to the success of the program. Our program is designed to allow our customers the ability to customize the recycling program to meet the needs of their individual households. For example, larger families and more avid recyclers can order a larger, 95-gallon cart. Those who consider themselves “super recyclers” can purchase an additional cart for a one-time fee of $50. And for those customers who have space constraints or who are unable to maneuver the 65-gallon standard-issue container, we offer a smaller 35-gallon recycling cart.
A big plus for our program is the contract for the sale of recyclable material. Under the dual-stream system, program revenue was subject to fluctuating market prices; profits and losses were shared by the county and the recycling contractor. The materials processing contract for the single-stream program materials allows our recycling collection vendors Waste Services Inc. and World Waste Services Inc. to deliver materials to conveniently located transfer stations operated by Waste Management Inc (WMI).
The materials are then transported by WMI to their materials recovery facility just outside of Miami-Dade County. WMI pays the county a flat, per-ton rate for the recyclables. No matter what the market is for the various materials, the county is guaranteed a per-ton rate that only changes annually based on the Consumer Price Index. We consider this a safe and risk-averse approach; the department receives revenue from the sale of recyclables even when the recycling markets are depressed. Likewise, WMI gets a greater benefit when the markets are favorable.
As we begin the second year of our program, we continue to look at ways that we can increase customer satisfaction, participation rates, and recycling tonnages. The department takes seriously the county’s mission of “Delivering Excellence Every Day.” Toward that end, we will continue monitoring our service providers to ensure consistent recycling service delivery. Ongoing education is also key to the program’s continued success.
This fall, we will launch the second phase of our public education program. We like to call it the “happy facts” about recycling. For the past year, we’ve stressed how easy it is to recycle with our one-cart program, and we’ve provided our residents with the how-to information that is so important for initial program success.
Going forward, we’ll take advantage of the program’s positive momentum, placing even greater emphasis on the environmental benefits of recycling and the need to divert materials away from our disposal sites.
I look forward to announcing our recycling achievements in the months to come and the second anniversary of our successful single-stream program in June of 2010.