ISLAMORADA -- Over the 10 months of last year for which the village has records, Islamorada's waste hauler took nearly a fifth of the recyclables it collected to the South Miami-Dade landfill rather than to a recycle center.
The reports, submitted to the village by the hauling company Advanced Disposal, formerly Veolia Environmental, show the hauler transported 104.5 tons, or nearly 210,000 pounds, of nonvegatative recyclables to the landfill.
By comparison, Advanced/Veolia transported 561.5 tons of recyclables to the recycle center in Miami.
In an interview last week, Advanced and former Veolia local manager Bruce Williams said approximately half the recyclables the company took to the landfill were part of hauling loads that contained too much nonrecyclable material to be acceptable to the Waste Service Inc. recycle center in Miami.
The recycle center considers loads that contain more than 10 percent nonrecyclables to be contaminated, a customer service representative there said.
Williams blamed the other half -- the 50.4 tons of recyclables that the Advanced/Veolia operation transported to the dump in October alone -- on a rogue employee.
"I had a disgruntled employee that did not want to drive all the way to Miami. He did take four loads to the landfill against my direction," Williams said.
He added that he learned about those loads last week after being asked about the October figures by the Free Press. By then, Williams said, the employee had already been fired for a series of other work transgressions, including not reporting an accident.
Williams' confirmation about hauling a portion of the village's recyclables to the Miami-Dade County landfill substantiates allegations that have circulated among green activists in Islamorada through the years. He called the contaminated loads and, therefore the trips to the landfill, unavoidable.
"Nope, nothing I can do," he said when asked if there are other solutions.
Meanwhile, Public Works Director John Sutter said he didn't know about the recycling diversion until speaking with the Free Press about the data last week.
Per the company's contract with the village, Advanced, and before that Veolia, is required to submit monthly recycle records to the town. In 2012, however, Veolia didn't submit records for April and May, according to the village. Williams also didn't provide those records to the Free Press upon request last week.
In any case, Sutter said he doesn't look at the hauling and recycling records that do get submitted.
"I don't analyze those statistics and nobody does," he said, explaining that he doesn't have time due to his responsibilities running the rest of the Public Works Department and serving as the village's parks director.
Sutter said the time he does spend on garbage and recycling collection is dedicated to making sure everyone's garbage gets picked up. Still, he acknowledged that more oversight is important and said he expects the issue to be addressed as the village moves ahead with bidding out the waste hauling contract ahead of the Sept. 30 expiration of the Advanced agreement. The Village Council has previously stated that it wants a sustainability coordinator hired to oversee a proposed mandatory commercial recycling program.
"That's part of the process of the [request for proposals]," Sutter said of beefing up oversight. "Things that we can look at with a new eye toward improving the way things have always been done."
But Rosa Washington, Monroe County's solid waste management administrator, said when it comes to taking loads of recyclables to the landfill, things could be improved right now.
"There's a lot of things he could do to minimize the quote-unquote contaminated amount of recycling that he has," she said of Williams. "But that is company choice."
Chiefly, Washington said, the garbage collectors at Advanced should be on the lookout for residential and commercial bins that contain too many nonrecyclables. Rather than collecting those loads, the collectors should leave them and educate the customers about what is allowed.
Advanced is the only one of the five garbage haulers working in Monroe County that doesn't use the county-run transfer stations in Key Largo, Long Key or Cudjoe Key, so its disposal process isn't the same as other local carriers. But Washington said any load of recycling that enters that county transfer stations as recycling leaves as recycling.
The loads are then transported by Waste Management to a recycling facility in Pembroke Pines.
Williams said he does instruct his collectors to leave recycle loads that are obviously contaminated.
"If it's full of Styrofoam, they don't take Styrofoam," he said.
However, even if loads do contain too much garbage to go straight into the recycling stream, there's an alternative to the landfill. The WSI recycle center that Williams has used with Advanced and Veolia also has a trash operation. If recycle loads come in with more than the 10 percent threshold of nonrecyclables, the facility will sort the load for an $85 fee per truck, customer service representative Ramon Canton said last week.
Williams said he hasn't tested that option since 2004, when he dropped off a load of contaminated recycling and WSI made him bring a truck back up the Miami facility to pick it up.