Pinellas trash facility tour is a treasure!

Vacation Donations is all about waste reduction, reuse, recycling and recovering/repurposing. We love to see leftover food and other items going to those in need — and we also love that those things are staying out of the landfill. It was only after we launched that we discovered that our county of Pinellas, the most densely populated county in Florida, has a goal of Zero Waste to Landfill by 2050. Yay! Along with the county evaluating the current solid waste management system, the plan includes improvements to recycling and diversion, operations, programs, facilities and technologies. Everything points to Zero!

But don’t take my word for it. Witness the county’s trash efforts in action by taking a free tour at its Solid Waste Disposal Complex in St. Petersburg. The 90-min. tour starts with a classroom component, then you get on a bus for the second half. We got to drive up to the top of the landfill (which used to be a pit but is now a 100-foot hill) and also into two dumping areas. It was FASCINATING! (Check out my Facebook post for more photos.) Btw, if you ask/answer questions in the classroom, you receive a gift! I chose a reusable collapsible bowl to use for taking leftovers home instead of a container from a restaurant.

If you don’t have time for a live tour or you aren’t nearby, or even you are, the county recently launched a truly stunning virtual tour of its facilities. Drill down deep into every activity by hovering over a corresponding spot on your screen. It’s a super impressive multimedia extravaganza.

Here are a few fun (and not so fun) facts I learned on the tour:

+ We have about 80 years left on our landfill at the current rate. After that, the trash will need to be shipped to other locations.

+ We are 1 million residents, with 80,000 snowbirds (aka seasonal visitors) and 15 million visitors per year. Collectively we toss out about 1 million tons of waste per year. That’s about 1 ton per resident of our county.

+ The Solid Waste complex processes about 2,800 tons of garbage per day.

+ The county’s state-of-the-art Waste-to-Energy Facility incinerates garbage to reduce the waste to ash. Ash reduces the volume of garbage by 90%. In turn, the energy powers the equivalent of 45,000 homes a day.

+ Although recycling isn’t done here, we discussed the basics. The top violation I personally see, every week, is people continue to put recyclables in plastic bags. PLASTIC BAGS ARE NOT RECYCLABLE!!!! And in fact, we learned how they can jam up the sorting machines and significantly reduce and/or delay the process. Here’s the county’s recycling guide for all the facts.

On another note, I’m a proud member of an advisory and networking group called Pinellas Partners in Recycling. We are organized by the county’s Solid Waste office, and group members include representatives from many of our 24 municipalities, waste management companies and community groups and nonprofits. It’s exciting and helpful to learn what others are doing to reduce waste!


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