Winter Park plans to increase sustainability

Winter Park’s recycling programs and participation lag far behind nearby cities, with some local cities recycling twice as much trash.

Winter Park’s recycling programs and participation lag far behind nearby cities, with some local cities recycling twice as much trash.

Tim Freed

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Winter Park city staff hopes a new sustainability action plan in the works will lead the city to a greener future, all while addressing Winter Park’s lack of recycling compared to other neighboring cities.

The green initiative follows a broad range of sustainability goals for the city over the next 10 to 20 years, addressing renewable energy sources, finding alternative means of transportation and reducing water usage.

But the all-encompassing action plan would also put emphasis on perhaps its weakest area to date: recycling. Winter Park diverted only 15 percent of its waste from landfills in 2012, well below the state’s goal set in 2008 of recycling 75 percent of its trash by 2020.

The city has reported reusing as little as 10 percent of its trash in years past.

Assistant Director of Building Permitting and Sustainability Kris Stenger attributed the low percentage to Winter Park’s current solid waste contract with Waste Pro, which adds an additional fee for renting recycling bins.

The sustainability effort looks to remove that cost while promoting single-stream recycling and larger containers after the contract expires in April 2016, Stenger said.

“We’re looking at models from other cities where recycling has already taken a stronghold and really reduced the amount of landfill solid waste,” Stenger said.

“If it gets to a point where you eliminate solid waste to the landfill enough, you might be able to reduce the number of collections that are done during the week.”

Winter Park is looking to reduce trash to the point where residents only need one pickup per week, Stenger said.

Other Central Florida cities such as Oviedo lead the way in reusing trash, recycling 35 percent of their waste each year, according to figured reported in 2012.

The Orlando/Kissimmee area got a sustainability boost in February with the opening of a new location for Harvest Power, a company based out of Massachusetts that converts compost into renewable energy.

The process uses anaerobic digestion, which involves breaking down the organic waste into biogas through naturally occurring microorganisms. Harvest Power creates electricity by combusting the biogas.

Curbside compost collection would also be available as well in Winter Park through the new action plan. Cities such as Seattle and San Francisco have already been offering a similar service for over a decade.

Organic waste makes up 40 percent of all municipal trash, according to a 2010 report from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

“We’re talking about doing something with just restaurants along Park Avenue and trying to get that organic material out of the waste stream because it’s very heavy,” Stenger said. “It adds a lot to the waste content of what goes into the landfill.”

The city hopes to get public input from residents about the action plan through an online survey, asking what sustainability issues should be focused on the most. The survey runs until Monday, June 30.

“Anything we can do to increase recycling is a good thing,” Mayor Ken Bradley said. “The devil’s always in the details ... I’m eager to hear what residents say.”

City staff will review the results of the survey for at least a month and hope to bring a potential program before the City Commission by the end of the year.