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Recycling has gone to waste since curbside pickup was suspended

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Claire Heddles
There is no date in sight for Jacksonville to resume curbside recycling.

Most people in Jacksonville apparently have given up on recycling since curbside pickup was suspended.

The city picked up only 73 tons of recycling last week, less than a tenth of the 1,000 tons recycled in the first week of December 2020, when curbside recycling was still in effect.

Fletcher High School junior Grant Tucker was among a group of students who gathered outside Mayor Lenny Curry's office Wednesday afternoon protesting the curbside suspension. He said he and his peers will pay the biggest price for extra trash going into landfills.

"This issue has sort of fallen on the shoulders of my generation and has become our burden," Tucker said. "We're coming to the age where we get to vote and really put our voices into our local government and reflect some of our sentiments."

The city suspended curbside recycling more than two months ago, with the intention of bringing it back by April, but city officials now say there's no clear end date in site.

"It’s our goal to get recycling back as soon as we can," Jacksonville spokesperson Caroline Adkins wrote in a statement Wednesday. "But after speaking with our contractors this week, they are still having difficulty finding licensed workers and are still understaffed, as are many industries across the country."

Two of the three contractors are offering sign-on bonuses for waste collection jobs. Even with recent wage increases, waste collection jobs with the city of Jacksonville pay about $32,000 for a waste worker and about $38,000 for a commercially certified truck driver.

That's a tough sell when CDL truck drivers can make an average salary of $77,000 a year in Florida, according to data from the career website Indeed.

City officials say the suspension of curbside recycling has had one benefit: It has helped solve some of the delays in picking up yard waste and garbage.

According to city data, more than 3,000 waste pickups were missed the second week of September. Last week, that number was about 700. Complaints about missed pickups have also fallen slightly

But since recycling is far less convenient now, most people in Jacksonville have stopped altogether, as the 93% drop on tonnage indicates.

Meanwhile, only about 20% of what people put into recycling ends up in the landfill anyways, according to Bill Brinkley, the general manager of Republic Services in Jacksonville.

"I won't speak for waste management, but I think if they pull up and they see a bunch of bagged material in there, it's probably not going to make it to the recycle center," Brinkley said during a North Florida Green Chamber recycling webinar this week.

Recycling that is dropped off at the city's 15 bins should be in loose paper bags, according to the group.

On Tuesday, City Council approved the city's strategic plan, which includes a three-year goal to improve and potentially modify the city's waste management and recycling programs.

"We need to look at what we are recycling and determine if there are things that we should remove from recycling, as well as things that we might want to add," finance chair Ron Salem told the City Council during a strategic planning meeting last month. "One of the major considerations in my mind is glass. There's no market for glass."

Recycling has no small price tag in Jacksonville. While some of the cost of the program is recouped by selling recyclables to manufacturers to reuse, the city operated at a $1.5 million loss last year.

The city paid $2.6 million to operate its curbside recycling program in the last fiscal year and earned just $1.1 million from the sale of recyclables.