Like the rest of the industrial world, Dade County is smothering itself with trash:
three million tons of solid waste per year. In the late 1980s, after the Florida legislature passed a statewide waste-reduction act, county officials set about developing one of the nation's most comprehensive recycling programs. Today an estimated 60 to 70 percent of Dade's households are participating in mandatory curbside recycling programs. Recycling for multifamily dwellings and businesses, though, lags far behind. Despite the fact that a 1991 county ordinance required compliance by July 1992, more than 75 percent of all commercial establishments and multifamily residences fail to recycle.
And Deborah Higer's patience is wearing thin. As chief of service development for Metro's Department of Solid Waste, Higer oversees the implementation of the recycling programs. In the next couple of weeks she plans to send out hundreds of violation notices, warning recipients that if they don't obey the law within a month, they'll face fines of up to $750 per day.
Over the past year Higer has compiled a database of do-gooders and deadbeats, using information gleaned from waste haulers' records. She sends two reminders to businesses that aren't trashing their trash properly. If those fail to effect a response, she fires off the zinger: a certified letter giving the recipient 30 days to comply before fines are levied. Higer figures she's already sent off about 25,000 copies of the first notice and 6000 copies of the second. Approximately 250 businesses and landlords can expect letter number three within the next couple of weeks; more will be cited in subsequent waves.
For some companies noncompliance could be costly. Fines are based on size: Properties that cover less than 3000 square feet could be assessed up to $200 each day they are in violation; the penalty jumps to $500 for spaces up to 10,000 square feet; any larger, and the fine can reach $750 per day.
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Businesses and their landlords are both responsible for compliance, but in buildings that lease space to more than one business, Higer says she is targeting the landlord or management company, because they usually coordinate all waste disposal. If a building manager has instituted a recycling program and a tenant fails to comply, however, the county will cite the tenant.
Many businesses have to rely on building managers to bring the entire building in line with the ordinance. New Times Inc., for instance, leases space in a building managed by the Allen Morris Company, which has failed to institute recycling in the 117,944-square-foot office building at 330 Biscayne Boulevard, and which has been slow to develop programs at the other Dade properties it owns and/or manages. "We're all working on it," reports senior property manager Libby McEwan, who says she hasn't yet received a letter from Metro-Dade regarding delinquent recycling at 330 Biscayne Boulevard. (By contrast, the Miami Herald Publishing Company has had a recycling program in place for three years, according to the company's building services manager Lynne Donnelly. "We were pretty much ahead of the ordinance," Donnelly says.)
Since the ordinance was passed Higer's staff has conducted an intensive educational program, mailing snappy brochures and information packets (printed on recycled paper, of course) to more than 50,000 businesses and landlords and conducting seminars for people who want to learn how to begin recycling. According to the ordinance, commercial and multifamily residential buildings must recycle at least three materials from this list: glass, plastics, aluminum, steel, other metals, high-grade office paper, mixed paper, corrugated cardboard, wood, and textiles.
This past month Higer's department honored businesses that have instituted successful and creative environmental programs. Among the winners were Cisco's Cafe in Virginia Gardens, which recycles five different types of materials and diverts three-fourths of its waste into recycling programs. Symbiosis, a Northwest Dade manufacturer of medical devices, was recognized in the manufacturing category, for diverting 45 percent of its waste and persuading suppliers to take back and reuse old packaging. Matonkiki, a retail baby store in South Miami, earned commendation in the small-business category. The three staffers there recycle so effectively that they only throw away a single 33-gallon trash bag each week.