Helping Florida Schools Implement Carton Recycling

Barbara Heineken
RRS Consultant

Over the past several years, and as a longtime Floridian, I have seen the increase in activity to expand recycling programs in Florida. Through my position with RRS, I am able to represent the Carton Council (an RRS client) and its commitment to increasing the number of aseptic and gable top cartons being recycled in the US. This is primarily accomplished through technical assistance and grants to localgovernments, material recovery facilities (MRFs) and schools. Specifically in Florida, the Carton Council has supported the addition of carton recycling at MRFs in Tampa, Jacksonville, Alachua County, Cocoa Beach, and Miami. To help promote and spread the word that residents can recycle cartons, Carton Council has conducted promotional campaigns in Tampa and Jacksonville. They have also provided monetary grants to many of the school districts in Florida as well, including the counties of Duval, Hillsborough, Manatee, Charlotte, Palm Beach, and Alachua.

Duval County Schools had a recycling program in place that was supported by Republic Services when they opened their MRF in Jacksonville in 2012.  Carton Council sought to add cartons to the program and worked with the schools and Republic Services to educate them on the abilities and benefits of carton recycling. With the support of a grant from Carton Council, Duval County Schools purchased needed bins for the cafeterias and conducted field trips to the MRF to educate students first hand on the processing of recyclables.

Manatee County’s residential recycling program and their promotional materials already included cartons. However, the school system needed additional support to get cartons included in recycling at every school. With the help of a very enthusiastic school facilities staff person responsible for the district’s recycling program, Patrick Gallagher, we started with schools that had a very supportive principal or a green team in place to oversee the program and ensure its success. Instead of trying to get all 50 schools in the district to recycle cartons, we started with 10 schools who were really excited about it, and because of that, they were all successful. The program has expanded to more schools in the district since they began three years ago.

And there are lessons to be learned along the way. In Hillsborough County, the Carton Council produced a major outreach campaign in 2015 and provided the school district with a grant to add cartons to recycling programs in 35 schools. The district, eighth largest in the country, does not have a dedicated sustainability staff person. Implementation struggled and was limited to three schools. A large district needs a central person to manage the program. Therefore, the grant money is now managed by Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, who will continue to implement the program in the school district with six schools slotted for carton recycling in the near future.

No matter what size the district, having a champion in the district is invaluable. The best programs I have seen are those in districts that have a central staff person overseeing it, as well as some type of green champions program that encourages each school to have an individual champion.

Industry-sponsored programs, like the Carton Council, are great resources for municipalities, MRFs, and school districts to partner with to increase recycling participation and recovery rates. I’m looking forward to engaging with more schools this year!