Remember when recycling was easy? You tossed a bottle, empty cereal box, and old newspapers in a bin and placed it at the end of your driveway. As environmental awareness gains momentum the world over, tighter restrictions and requirements have changed how St. Johns County manages the recycling load from over 5500 homes in one of the nation’s fastest growing counties.
St. Johns County has spent the last few years restructuring the recycling program to fall into line with changes in the recycling market, thanks to the stricter import requirements from China. Prior to 2017, most recycled materials were sold to China. Now, however, all recycled items being imported into China must meet certain “contamination” requirements. Previously, everything – whether it was considered recyclable or not – was sent to China. Now, the providers who collect and export the material must comply with China’s new regulations. Much of what was sent to China is now being sent to Vietnam, India, and other locales.
The biggest challenge for St. Johns County became how to educate the public and make them aware of exactly what is and is not acceptable in a recycling bin. The restructuring of the recycling program involves many aspects and has taken several months to roll out. But the resounding focus was to keep things simple.
The first step was to provide the large blue rolling bins for each household. On top of each bin, in large white lettering, are clear instructions detailing acceptable items to place in the receptacle. Next, the Department of Public Works is ramping up the current education programs. This involved purchasing a dedicated domain name (recyclestjohns.com), upgrading the website and social media connections, holding more community meetings, and developing programs for local schools to get children involved in the process.
After a recent survey, the Public Works department realized that most people don’t recycle because they are forced to or have to pay for it. They simply do it because “it’s our county.” So the department added that to their logo – “Recycle St. Johns: It’s our county!”
The key point the program leaders, Greg Caldwell and Wendy Hicks, want to make the community aware of is that many things are recyclable — but not everything is accepted through St. Johns County’s program.
The future of recycling is an ever-changing course. St. Johns County plans to continually work with the community to teach, learn, and grow together.