BOCC moves forward with zero waste projects

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) heard an update on its Zero Waste initiatives at its regular meeting on Tuesday, including more insight into its Eco-Industrial Park.

Gus Olmos, director of solid waste and resource recovery, said the county would open a request for information that will last 30 days. Companies interested in space at the Eco-Industrial Park can apply for the county to evaluate.

These companies will partner with the county to use its waste in productive ways, whether the waste is organic, plastics construction or furniture.

Olmos said the county has been in discussions with companies who’d like to get into the space and start working. He said the county is almost “playing catchup” with those who’d like to already start. But the county has yet to issue a formal document to begin formal relationships with these groups.

Gus Olmos - Alachua County director of solid waste and resource recovery

The BOCC settled that on Tuesday when it approved the requisition for information to be sent out.

Olmos said the companies will need to abide by the county’s guiding principles for zero waste, including a focus on job growth, upstream solutions, projects that mitigate climate change, address environmental justice and create equity of service.

The form will also ask the company:

  • What types of materials will they target?
  • Has the process/model been tried or is it innovative?
  • How much and what kind of waste will the process create?
  • How many people will be employed?
  • What kind of jobs will those be?
  • Is the business feasible or sustainable on its own?

“Specifically what we’re looking for are companies that are going to advance the environmental, the economic and the zero waste goals of the county,” Olmos said.

Sean McLendon, economic development and food system manager for the county, said feasibility will be a crucial part of the evaluation. The county wants businesses that can last and support themselves—though commissioners also discussed potential support of some companies.

With applications in hand, county staff will rank and review the proposals through two committees— the Environmental Protection Advisory Committee and the Economic Development Advisory Committee—before returning them to the commission for approval.

Olmos estimated that the analysis process could take 60 to 90 days depending on the committees’ schedules.

“We are expecting to get a whole variety of different companies doing different things,” Olmos said. “They’re essentially not going to be competing against each other. They’re going to be competing to see how close they meet our goals.”

The county has 31 acres dedicated to the park located behind the Leveda Brown Environmental Park and Transfer Station off of NE Waldo Road just north of Gainesville Regional Airport.

The county can partner with as many companies as it can fit in the site, and Olmos said the park currently has sufficient space to handle the number of companies he’s talked with so far. Though he added that space on the property will be the primary limiting factor for the eco-industrial park.

Olmos said that the request for information also provides the companies with specifics about the waste materials the county handles, giving quantities and types. That information determines what type of business can be successful at the park.

The presentation also revealed the rebrand for the Eco-Industrial Park. The park will be called EcoLoop.

County staff also updated the commission on how it is moving forward with procurement policies that control what type of materials the county buys.

Current guidelines instruct permanent, budgeted employees to minimize the use of all single-use materials, use washable cookware where possible, use PFAS-free compostable products where necessary, minimize water bottle use and buy products made with a minimum of 30 percent post-consumer materials for fiber products, toilet paper, file folders, envelopes and other unspecified paper products.

Alachua County Commissioner Anna Prizzia

Commissioner Anna Prizzia agreed with the steps taken but wanted the county to go further.

“I’d like to see us expand on what we’re talking about when we’re talking about zero waste and expand on sustainability and procurement more broadly,” Prizzia said.

Prizzia then made a motion to have departments focus on waste and consumption reduction strategies like the following: reusing, repairing and repurposing goods; buying goods with minimal packaging; buy goods with highest available percentage of recycled content; and using lease and take back options.

The motion asked staff to develop a comprehensive, sustainable procurement policy using a life cycle perspective and explore best industry practices.

The motion also included a section to require all durable goods and assets owned by the county to have a maintenance, disposal or recycling plan for their use. The motion passed 4-0 with Commissioner Charles Chestnut absent.

The BOCC then passed a motion for staff to move forward with the request for information on the EcoLoop project with emphasis on having companies consider ways to partner with each other and examine the waste that they will produce.

The motion included direction for staff to return with:

  • other strategies within the zero waste plan that address construction and demolition, bulk and woody waste.
  • an update on the repurpose project (which the county budgeted $700,000 toward but has stalled)
  • An update on the county’s grant program around zero waste

This motion passed 4-0 with Chestnut absent.

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