Recycling Success Story—Palm Beach County, Florida
Community Profile: Palm Beach County is located about 70 miles north of Miami on the eastern coast of Florida. Its population of approximately 1.2 million makes it the third largest county in the state. Thirty-seven incorporated cities make up the county. The unemployment rate in the county was 7.9 percent in 2004. The average price of an owner-occupied housing unit was $193,000. There are over 600,000 housing units in the county, of which 65 percent are in structures with four or fewer housing units.
Recycling Success: Palm Beach County provides recycling opportunities for all households, both single-family and multi-family (structures with five or more units). Commercial establishments may either recycle through the franchised solid waste collector or hire another recycling company. Like the rest of the state, the county must seek to comply with the legislature’s goal of recycling 30 percent of all waste and 50 percent of five key materials: newspapers, glass, aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and steel cans.
|Roll-Cart Size (gallons)||Percent Recycled (%)|
|Overall recycling rate||36|
Both the overall rate and the five materials rates are well above the state average, fifth highest among the 67 counties in Florida, and highest among the six largest counties in the state.
Program Organization: These incorporated communities are responsible for organizing recycling and solid waste collection for residential and commercial establishments. The county’s Solid Waste Authority (SWA) provides solid waste disposal services to both incorporated and unincorporated areas of the county. The SWA arranges for solid waste and recycling collection from residents and commercial establishments in unincorporated areas of the county.This county has franchise collection for multi-family recycling and refuse collection and commercial refuse collection. All solid waste activities are handled through the SWA, which was established by special state statute. The current franchise arrangement was enacted in 1993. As part of the state statute, franchises must be re-bid every 5 years. Nine service areas cover the unincorporated areas of the county. A contractor may bid on up to three districts, or 50 percent of the county. Incorporated areas can “piggyback” onto county franchises or handle services on their own. The county arranges service for approximately 181,000 single-family units, 85,000 multi-family units, and 185,000 commercial establishments. Currently, three firms service the county’s nine districts.
Nearly 68 percent of the county’s solid waste and recyclables are delivered to one of five transfer stations owned and operated by the SWA. The remaining materials are delivered directly to the residential or commercial materials recycling facility (MRF), the waste to energy facility, the composting facility, or the Class I or II landfills, all located adjacent to one another and all owned and operated by the SWA.2
Disposal fees are determined from a disposal assessment to the customer and from tipping fees at transfer stations and processing facilities. All residents are assessed a disposal fee, currently set at $104 per year for single-family households and $53 per year for multi-family households.
Commercial establishments pay a dedicated assessment to cover disposal costs and are divided into four classes of generators:
|Generator Class||Disposal Rates (Cents per Square Foot)|
|High (e.g., supermarket, restaurant)||0.470|
|Medium (e.g., dormitory, hospital, movie theater)||0.088|
|Low (e.g., bank, warehouse)||0.033|
The county determines container rental rates and adds a disposal rate of $1.88/cubic yard. The current tipping fee at the transfer stations for commercial waste is $28 per ton.
Single-Family and Multi-Family Recycling Programs: Households in the unincorporated areas of the county receive solid waste and recycling service from the franchised hauler serving their geographic area. The hauler collects from single-family homes, multi-family units, and commercial establishments. All residents are provided with the opportunity to recycle, but participation is voluntary.
Haulers collect unlimited quantities of solid waste from single-family households twice per week. Unlimited quantities of yard waste are collected weekly; the county arranges for the collection of 0.85 tons of yard waste per single-family unit each year. Bulky items may be set at the curb on any regular garbage collection day. Recyclables from each single-family unit are collected once a week in two 18-gallon bins.
|Magazines||Plastic containers (#1 through #7)|
|Catalogs||Aluminum cans, foil, and pie plates|
|Telephone books||Drink boxes|
|Corrugated cardboard||Milk and juice cartons|
The program does not accept:
- 12-pack beverage boxes
- Tissue boxes
- Cereal boxes
- Plastic bags
- Light bulbs, mirrors, or plate glass
- Plastic wrap
- Steel or steel cans
A typical single-family set out is pictured below. Depending on the district, single-family households pay between $129 and $166 per year for collection of garbage, bulk, recyclables, and yard waste.3
Using a set of two 95-gallon containers, multi-family units have twice per week garbage pick-up, once per week bulk and once per week recycling. The program includes the same materials as the single-family program, with papers in a yellow cart and containers in a blue cart. The annual collection fees range from $40 to $109 per unit, plus a $53 per year disposal fee that includes recycling services. Multi-family units are assumed to hire landscapers, so yard waste is not collected.
Commercial Recycling Program: Because disposal is, in effect, pre-paid via the generator fee plus the per yard container assessment, contractors bid on commercial dumpster collection service based on collection costs. These costs have varied from $0.89/yard to $2.09/yard in the last contract. Palm Beach County also collects a 3 percent franchise fee on total hauler revenue. Commercial recycling is open to any hauler in the county. Haulers in the service district can also bid on recycling services for their customers.
Commercial generators or recyclers can enter into a materials purchase agreement with SWA, whereby SWA will pay 80 percent of net revenues for all clean loads of cardboard and white ledger paper delivered to the commercial MRF. The monthly price varies depending on markets.
To encourage recycling, the county subsidizes recycling container rentals to commercial establishments. The SWA provides free waste audits to commercial establishments. The waste audits help customers determine the quantity of recyclable materials currently being disposed, provide recommendations for cost reduction, provide a proposal for recycling program implementation, and provide employee education presentations. The SWA provides desk-side collection bins, central collection bins, educational materials, and posters.
Lessons Learned: Palm Beach County is unique in providing the same recycling opportunities to every resident, whether the resident lives in a single-family home or a multi-family complex. Because pricing is based on collection of unlimited quantities of garbage, no cost savings incentives reinforce recycling behavior. To reach the overall goal of recycling 50 percent of the waste stream, the county has made the recycling program convenient, simple, and socially acceptable. The county provides recycling bins to households throughout the county, whether they reside in incorporated or unincorporated areas. In an effort to educate new residents in this growing community about Palm Beach County’s recycling program, the county has begun an extensive television advertising campaign.
The county is also unique in its operation of a commercial MRF and willingness to enter into materials sales agreements with individual commercial generators. This provides a powerful economic incentive for individual businesses to recycle. With these measures in place, Palm Beach County is on its way to reaching its recycling goals. Further information about the county’s recycling programs can be obtained from the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County's Web site.
3 This fee is included on the annual property tax bill. The fees are for seven of nine districts. Fees are somewhat higher in the two westernmost districts ($282–$309), where customer density is lowest.