- August 17, 2020
For Sanitation Supervisor Rob Smith, recycling isn’t just about the environment — it’s common sense.
“I’m a realistic person,” Smith said. “It’s not rocket science — any city can do this.”
By “this,” Smith means making the city’s recycling an in-house process, both to save on costs and to ensure that the recyclable materials are actually recycled.
The next step in that is recycling film plastics. At the March 7 Flagler Beach City Commission meeting, the City Commission approved a contract with Trex Inc. — a film plastic recycling company — to begin recycling film plastic.
Smith said when he took over as the sanitation supervisor three years ago, the city wasn’t really recycling when residents placed their blue bins on the side of the road.
Private companies usually handle recycling, he said, and if there isn’t a market for the materials, the materials end up in the landfill anyway, Smith said. And the company will still charge fees.
“This bother[ed] me personally because I can do something about it,” Smith said.
So, Smith began by completely stopping the old process, adding back in what he was able to recycle in-house with his team: aluminum, tin and cardboard. Glass was added to the list in 2022.
We weren’t really recycling anything. Now we have 100% control over it. ... We are truly recycling; It’s not a façade. — Rob Smith, Flagler Beach Sanitation Supervisor
“We weren’t really recycling anything. Now we have 100% control over it,” Smith said. “We are truly recycling; It’s not a façade.”
Recycling and Big Blue
Former Commission Chair Ken Bryan said he and Smith were at a recycling conference last year when they heard about Trex’s plastic recycling program.
Trex provides the cities receptacles and, once the city has collected enough tonnage in plastic, Trex will send out a truck to pick it up and pay the city for the plastic, creating revenue from the trash.
“So I got excited,” Bryan said. “Rob got excited.”
Film plastic is any packaging plastic — like the plastic around toilet paper and paper towels — as well as the plastic grocery bags most stores use.
Film plastic would be the first plastic the city could recycle; Bryan said the city gets calls all the time asking why it doesn’t recycle plastic bottles.
“We have to explain to them … there isn’t a market for it,” Bryan said. “We can’t do them all, but we thought we would at least start with the film plastic.”
Smith said he hopes to have the film plastic recycling up and running in the next month or so, with drop-off receptacles around town.
This is just the next step in recycling for Flagler Beach after Smith acquired Big Blue for the city last year.
We have to explain to them … there isn’t a market for it. We can’t do them all, but we thought we would at least start with the film plastic.— Ken Bryan, former City Commission Chair
Big Blue is what Smith named the city’s glass recycling machine: it turns the glass into 3/8 gravel and fine sand.
The city got the machine in early 2022 and had its first glass pick-up in May of last year. Sanitation employees hand-sort the glass they get and the glass is dumped into Big Blue.
Residents can purchase the gravel for $35 for a 25-pound bag. The city has also used the sand for some of their hurricane sandbags, he said, and public works and landscaping have used them in projects for the city.
It won’t be until April that he has the numbers, but, Smith said, he knows Big Blue has saved the city a lot of money just from not having to transport the glass — they’ve saved about $700 a week on dump fees and trucking, he said.
That also means that the sanitation crews can move more garbage, faster, Smith said. They used to do 80-85 tons of garbage a week, but now do around 125 without the recyclable materials taking up space.
Flagler Beach is one of the few cities to do its own glass recycling, he said. Even locally, the rest of Flagler County is serviced by WastePro for all its recycling, including glass.
In January, Flagler Beach even won an award for environmental stewardship at the Northeast Florida Regional Council awards banquet.
But trying to recycle from the city end doesn’t work if the residents don’t pitch in and sort their material, Smith said.
“It takes the whole city and then some to make it work,” Smith said.
Bryan said that Smith, though, was in the front line of these recycling initiatives, even going door-to-door to educate residents and pushing for brochures with the information.
Bryan said that he has always been supportive of these recycling initiatives, but it was difficult sometimes getting the rest of the commission on board. If he had stayed on, he said, an advertising campaign would have been his next push.
“It's just a constant type of education with people,” he said. “Because you have new people coming in, new residents, you have local tourists coming in. So not everyone is aware.”
Smith said their recycling program is more than just what it does with the recyclable materials. It’s also about reducing their carbon footprint, the wear on the trucks, the oil use and, ultimately, the costs.
“To me, that all enters into recycling,” he said. “The key to doing this is doing it with the least amount of output.”
To me, that all enters into recycling. The key to doing this is doing it with the least amount of output. — Rob Smith, Flagler Beach Sanitation Supervisor
Much of that is done in small ways: Instead of buying a new cardboard baler at $14,000, Smith said he bought the one they have for $6,000, used — it just needed a new part. Instead of buying a full set of brand-new tires, he uses recaps for as long as it is safe to do so, saving $300 per tire on a truck, except the front two which need to be brand new for safety.
To make sure the glass gravel and sand is clean, his team uses a cement mixer to filter out the paper and other debris, no special machinery needed. He even kept an old dump truck that’s truck bed had rusted out for the crane on it —that is used to dump the glass into Big Blue.
For the city’s next recycling initiatives, Bryan said, the state and federal governments have a lot of grants the city can apply for.
“You will not believe the grants that are available,” Bryan said. “And they are focusing on anything has to do with environment.”
The city’s recycling saves residents $4-$5 on their $23 monthly sanitation bill, Smith said. That $23 includes a $2 recycling fee, and, Smith said, he hopes it can one day become a credit on residents’ bills at the end of the year.
With Trex’s contract on the horizon and more ideas for what to do next, Smith said the in-house recycling process is a better, more accountable one than the process in place before.
“Saving money and doing something good for the environment,” Smith said. “That’s what’s important at the end of the day.”