Fewer tons of trash from Sumter County made it to the landfill last year.

Villagers and area residents seem to recycle at higher numbers than ever, new data from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection shows.

About 217,000 tons of municipal solid waste collected in the county was recycled in 2017, an increase of about 57,000 tons from 2016, DEP stated.

That brought the county’s recycling rate up to 72 percent — three points shy of reaching the rate that state leaders hope to achieve for the state overall.

Perhaps the dedication of environmentally conscious Villagers like Sally King helped make it possible.

The Village of Pennecamp resident trashes as little as possible, stacking piles of newspapers and empty cereal boxes and containers for recycling pickup.

King recycles because she’s concerned that disposable materials are so abundant in people’s lifestyles that landfills will fill with more waste than they can handle.

“There won’t be anywhere else for it to go (once it’s full),” she said.

Countywide recycling grows despite state dip

Sumter now ties Charlotte County for the state’s highest traditional recycling rate, the data showed. Last year, Sumter was No. 2 behind Charlotte.

Recycling in Sumter grew amid a statewide decrease in recycling.

Florida’s rate was 52 percent in 2017, down four percentage points from the year prior, DEP data showed. The agency determines the rate based on traditional recycling of municipal solid waste, plus credits for renewable energy.

However, the current rate is well above 2011’s, when statewide recycling participation was only 30 percent, DEP spokeswoman Elyssa Finkelstein said.

She attributed this growth to improved outreach among recycling coordinators in each county.

“The counties are able to assist DEP in tracking recycling, community engagement and education and continuing efforts to reach the statewide goal of 75 percent,” Finkelstein said. “County recycling coordinators also provide a resource for local organizations and individuals to help increase recycling opportunities.”

Explaining the county’s growth

Sumter’s recycling rate supplements Villagers’ high participation in curbside recycling participation, which is about 85 percent, according to data from the community’s two trash haulers, CH2M and Waste Management.

Cardboard, newspapers, glass and aluminum cans made up some of the most commonly recycled items in Sumter County, DEP data showed.

But homeowners aren’t the only ones driving the high recycling rate.

With The Villages expanding southward, the recycling of construction and development materials, such as asphalt, remains high, the data showed.

About 182,000 tons of construction materials were recycled countywide, a jump of about 40,000 tons more than last year, DEP stated.

Not just curbside

Villagers’ efforts to keep recyclable waste out of landfills doesn’t start and end at the curb.

Residents also participate in county governments’ household hazardous waste and electronics collection events for safe disposal of items that are unsafe to throw in the trash.

Items accepted for collecting include household cleaners, paints, fluorescent light bulbs and pool cleaning chemicals.

Some of these events will happen in time for the return of seasonal residents:

Lake County’s mobile unit will stop in Fruitland Park later this month. Public works staff will collect household hazardous waste from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 27 at Fruitland Park City Hall, 506 W. Berckman St.. Only Lake residents may drop off items.

Sumter County will hold its twice-annual household electronics and hazardous waste mobile collection event from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 3 at Lake Okahumpka Park, 6085 E. State Road 44, Wildwood. Only Sumter residents may drop off items.

The Villages Homeowners Advocates also will hold its annual electronic waste recycling event in the winter. A date and location are to be determined.

Villagers dropped off more than 44,000 pounds of unwanted electronics during a February event at Lake Deaton Plaza, VHA South Region 9 Director Matt Friedland said.

February’s event marked the fifth time the VHA organized the collection effort, and this year’s yielded 2,000 pounds more than the year prior, he said.

Friedland, of the Village of Charlotte, thinks it’s been so popular because residents are aware of the harm that hazardous materials may do to the environment if left in a landfill.

“The main thing is we don’t put it in the dump,” Friedland said. “The dump is getting too big.”

Echoing that sentiment, King said that if it were up to her, more people would recycle in The Villages.

But she admits she can’t control others’ wasteful habits.

“I’d be worn out trying to stop people from throwing things away,” King said.

Michael Salerno is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5369, or michael.salerno@thevillagesmedia.com.