FORT PIERCE, Fla. — It's a bit of a stinky subject: trash, and it's increasing across Florida.
From Tampa to Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, the amount of municipal solid waste collected is going up, and in some cases, exponentially, according to a Florida Department of Environmental Protection report.
Across the state, trash haulers collected 51 million tons of trash in 2022, up from 47 million in 2020. The increase equates to about 90,000 more loads.
St. Lucie County's Erick Gill said they've seen a significant increase in the amount of solid waste collected, and the County's current trash cell, an area which holds waste within the landfill, is filling up more quickly than expected.
"Our current cell is about eight acres, we thought it would last until 2027, we’re already at 70% capacity," Gill, the county's communications director, said. "Our hauler has had to add some additional routes because of the growth we’ve seen."
Gil said in response, the county has started shredding and compacting as much trash as possible to make the most out of the landfill. Once its full, finding a new one isn't easy.
"Nobody wants to live near a landfill, so you have to find a secure location that is available for sale," Gill said.
Still, Gill said he wouldn't be surprised if, in the next five to 10 years, the county is forced to look for a new landfill. In the meantime, Gill said they're currently looking to permit a new trash cell on the already existing landfill, which he said should help find a spot for all the scraps.
Gill said the county is hoping to tap into federal Inflation Reduction Act funds to offset the new cell's $30 million cost. Otherwise, he said it would fall on the trash pickup customers' shoulders.
"Yeah, if we could get some federal assistance for that, it’s certainly something we’re looking into," Gill said.
Gill said the growing garbage may force the county to rethink their system, as the population in Port St Lucie alone is expected to double in the coming decades.
"I think we’re going to continue to look for ways to extend the landfill, unfortunately it’s tough to slow the growth down. We’re seeing it both from the north and the south," Gill said. "It’s always a challenge, we’re looking at ways we can extend the life of this facility."
Sandro Dos Santos, owner of Second Street Barbershop in Fort Pierce, said he's seen the growth firsthand.
"My new clients, they’re from everywhere," Dos Santos said. "More people, more trash. I just hope we’re not going to have double the trash. I don't think anyone likes trash."
In Palm Beach County, authorities handled 3,966,088 tons of trash in 2022, up from 3,297,478, about a 20% increase.
However, Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County's Willie Puz said most of the increase was construction and demolition debris, which he said was mostly recycled.
He also added their integrated facility, which has the capacity for traditional landfill and incineration, can handle the uptick in volume.
Puz also said many counties across the State of Florida are now turning to WTE, or Waste to Energy models, to handle the incoming trash.
According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, as of 2022, Florida has 11 WTE facilities.
WTE's combust municipal solid waste into energy.
Puz said that's not necessarily always in reaction to increases in population, but has to do with landfill space being a hot commodity, and hard to come by.
Gill said St Lucie County considered looking into the WTE model, but held off on implementing it over concern the ash from waste combustion would pollute the air.
According to a recent NBC news report, since WTE's implementation decades ago, several lawsuits and complaints, including one in Miami-Dade County, have been filed against governments that implement WTE's or similar incineration-style waste management.
Some lawsuits claim combustion exposed nearby residents to environmental toxins, causing health threats.
However, an Environmental Protection Agency study looked at the impact of the ash from WTE facilities, and said it should not be classified as hazardous waste.