Curbside recycling in unincorporated Polk County being eliminated in 2024

District 1 County Commissioner, George Lindsey, said curbside recycling is counterproductive in unincorporated Polk County. According to him, the market to sell recycled goods has dried up and too much of it gets sent to their landfill.

Next October, all recycled materials will get sent there.

"We’re simply shortening that process because that’s where it ends up anyway," said Lindsey.

Polk County commissioners also said fueling the trucks is too expensive, as well as the process of separating useful recycled goods from contaminated ones. Lindsey added that it all comes down to dollars and cents.

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"It is a business decision that it simply costs more than the value received," he shared.

Polk joins a growing list of Florida communities canceling curbside recycling. County commissioners have even released videos on Polk Government Television to help to explain their decision to the public.

"We've been told since Earth Day number one, ‘recycle, recycle, recycle’, with no one explaining how that works. Does it work? And we just assume, because we've been told it a million times to recycle, that it's a good thing. When in fact, maybe it isn't a good thing," District 3 commissioner, Bill Braswell, said in one video.

"As an educator, I'm embarrassed. Go back to school. Let us teach you in clear and simple language how valuable these materials are," said Dr. T.H. Culhane, associate professor in the USF Patel College of Sustainability.

He’s disappointed to see communities cancel recycling. He sees it as a lack of awareness.

"There’s no element on this planet that can’t be endlessly repurposed for various aspects of making life better," explained Dr. Culhane.

Next door in, Hillsborough County, administrators say their focus is on impact and not cost.

"Recycling doesn’t lose money. It costs money, just like any service. Trash collection costs money, but we don’t stop trash collection," said recycling coordinator, Daniel Gallagher.

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It costs fifteen dollars per household to collect recycling in Hillsborough. And according to Gallagher, the service is worth every penny.

"We’re collecting 60,000 tons of recycling a year. That’s around 10 million pounds of material a month," he said.

But back in Polk County, commissioners said the costs of recycling still outweigh the benefits, and it has no plans of going back, even as residents come to grips with the decision. Curbside recycling is being eliminated in unincorporated Polk County starting in October 2024.

"I don’t think people know this is coming a year from now and when they start putting their recycled material out and it doesn’t get picked up, that’s when the phone is going to start ringing and the emails are going to blow up," said commissioner Lindsey.

Commissioner Lindsey added that he feels blame should be shifted towards manufacturers. He said they should be more responsible when designing their packaging and make it more recycle-friendly.