Mall at UTC and waste: an ever-changing system

The shared trash compactor of dock C, where store and restaurant waste clashes, leaving cardboard typically unrecyclable.
The shared trash compactor of dock C, where store and restaurant waste clashes, leaving cardboard typically unrecyclable.

At The Mall at University Town Center, scuff marks are scrubbed away at a moment’s notice, the Florida sunshine sparkles in every corner, and it even seems like the mannequins wouldn’t be caught dead in the same look twice. Magic, it would seem.

But beyond the magic there is a dirty reality: Someone has to take out the trash.

Counting it out

  • During its first full year in 2015, The Mall at UTC produced 1,598 tons of waste, which is equivalent to 318 elephants or about 8 blue whales, the largest animal on Earth.
  • 290.9 tons, or 18 percent, of the waste was recycled cardboard, which is 58 elephants or 1.5 blue whales.
  • 2015: The mall had seven trash compactors and four cardboard recycling compactors.
  • 2016: The mall has five trash compactors, five cardboard recycling compactors and one single-stream recycling compactor. Single-stream means all recyclables (paper, plastic, aluminum or glass) can be placed into one container and sorted later, but at the mall the contents needs to be mostly cardboard.

In May of this year, the mall changed one of the trash compactors to cardboard only. Waste Management partners with the mall to create a program that best fits the mall’s needs and helps them find these services. Daniel Deese, WM’s representative for the mall, said because of this, he predicts that 18 percent of diverted waste will rise at least 30 percent, if not more.

While trash goes out to the Sarasota County Landfill in Nokomis, cardboard and single-stream recyclables are taken to a transfer station in Sarasota and loaded onto a trailer to end up at the Waste Management Material Recovery Facilities in Ybor City in Tampa.

Cardboard accounts for a great amount of retail waste. Department stores like Dillard’s can get a trailer full of boxes of shipment two to five times a week, according to their operations manager Cindy Neville.

“Cardboard is the purest form of recycling right now,” said Deese. For what used to get $110 by the ton at the Ybor recycling facility, cardboard is sold to buyers at around $50-60 and the rebate goes to Taubman, the mall’s owner.

Deese said the mall’s only single-stream recycling compactor, which mostly services the Apple store, can accept anything in mixed recycling like paper or plastic. This isn’t included in the mall’s recycling numbers because it’s on a separate pick-up schedule. There are different schedules for waste and cardboard as well, and timing all depends on the heaviness of the season. Paper or plastic isn’t a focus for the mall because Deese said recycling centers only pay $20 per ton, so it isn’t worth the manpower to sort.

“Obviously its going to cost us more to do it than its worth,” said mall superintendent Maureen Fitzgerald-Marhold. “If it was physically feasible, we would definitely recycle everything.”

The recycling service used to take hard plastic like hangers, but since there’s no market for them, they go to the landfill.

“Sarasota is one of the best places in Florida for trying to recycle in the facilities they have,” he said. “Florida (as a whole) is not one of the better markets.”

Survey says...

Out of 113 UTC stores and restaurants surveyed:

  • 80 businesses said they separate cardboard from general trash and place each into their appropriate compactors.
  • 29 businesses said they put everything — cardboard and trash — into one compactor.
  • Eight of those 29 businesses said they separated cardboard from general trash but then put both into the same compactor.
  • Four businesses declined to comment.

One of the stores said they had a recycling bin in their stockroom, and they empty it into the regular trash at the end of the day. Employees at another store said they take cardboard and plastic home to recycle because the compactor they use that’s supposed to be designated for cardboard recycling is typically reeking with food waste.

Stores and restaurants in the northwest corner of the mall share one trash compactor; their dock isn’t big enough to fit a separate cardboard compactor. Every morning, or each night, employees take their trash, cardboard and food waste to the same compactor. While most of the mall has direct access to cardboard compactors, most of these stores just put it all in one compactor, meaning typically the cardboard is in contact with the food waste and therefore contaminated, meaning it’s sent to the landfill.

Amy Boyson, community affairs manager at WM, said that they expect to see 10 percent contamination. WM drivers have jurisdiction over what taken to be recycled and what should be left for the garbage truck.

“We hope there’s no contamination,” she said.

An employee at Aldo said that the mall fined the company for misplacing trash in the wrong compactor in February 2015. Deese said the mall can give a first warning and try to reeducate, but the mall is able to fine tenants if waste or cardboard is on the ground.

Fitzgerald-Marhold, who has been the superintendant since the mall’s opening, said that’s not the case.

“We try to reeducate,” she said, noting that tenants are trained. “We’ve never fined anyone.”

Plastic and the public

The interior of the mall has about 26 bins marked “litter” and mall employees empty them into trash compactors without sorting out plastics.

Restaurants like Mandarin Express, Yo! Sushi and Starbucks sell products in plastic containers. Only Yo! Sushi has a recycling option for its patrons, but assistant manager Chris Makapedua said it goes in with the trash at the end of the day. He said he wishes there was a place near the trash compactor he uses to put the bottles and cans the restaurant collects.

Jasmine Gray, a 22-year-old employee at Six 02, said she and her peers take home their own bottled drinks.

“It’d be easier if there was a recycling bin out there,” Gray said of where current compactors are located in the mall’s seven docks.

She said having recycling bins inside the mall would be good for the public. But after seeing that trash bins at the beach weren’t really being used, she understands that just because it’s there doesn’t mean people will use it.

Boyson said that a plausible reason why a mall like the one at UTC wouldn’t have recycling bins is that people either “don’t know or don’t care.” She said a lot of contamination is seen when recycling is open to the public, and more contamination means more waste and less recycling.

“We have not got to that point yet,” said Fitzgerald-Marhold of the lack of recycling bins in the mall.

Mall at UTC

Waste created in 2015: 1,598 tons

Cardboard recycled in 2015: 290.9 tons

  • 5 compactors for trash
  • 5 compactors for recycling cardboard
  • 1 compactor for single-stream recycling