UF Researchers Tackle Florida’ Waste Management Challenges with EPA Grant

Scientists in the University of Florida’s Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences are investigating Florida’s waste management system to quantify the amount of garbage and recycling produced in Florida and evaluate the capacity of existing infrastructure to manage the state’s various waste streams.  Hannah Sackles, a doctoral student in environmental engineering sciences, is a part of the research team that received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help evaluate Florida’s solid waste management system and identify opportunities to improve resource recovery.  

The research goal is to improve the handling of materials after they are discarded, aiming to promote a Circular Economy and Sustainable Materials Management. Circular Economy finds clever ways to reuse items instead of just throwing them away, which reduces the amount of waste produced and extends the useful life of products. The research also aims to move closer to achieving the National Recycling Goal, and Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal. The findings will equip the state’s local government officials and facility owners with valuable information for solid waste planning and infrastructure development. Sackles said, “the data gathered during this research will allow policymakers to effectively manage solid waste in the state and identify new opportunities for waste reduction, reuse and recycling.”  

The research focuses on measuring various types of waste streams, like household trash and construction debris, produced in Florida. It also looks at the state’s ability to manage this waste, including the capacity of processing and disposal facilities, and aims to identify additional places to recover valuable materials from the waste stream. 

By extending the useful life of products and optimizing material use, Florida can improve the management of solid waste, identify opportunities for waste reduction, reuse, and recycling, and work toward achieving national recycling and food waste reduction goals by 2030. The EPA’s National Recycling Goal aims to reach a 50% recycling rate across the nation by 2030, while the Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal targets a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030. 

The research is part of EPA grant-funded initiatives and encompasses a Waste Management System Capacity Study to assess existing infrastructure and identify areas for improvement, Away from Home Waste and Recycling Study to evaluate waste generation by tourists, and an update to WasteCalc to incorporate life cycle assessment measures.  

“The research we’re conducting has implications that are relevant not only at the state level but includes principles that can be applied at the national and even international levels too,” Sackles said. 

With collaborators from Florida Polytechnic University and Florida Atlantic University, the team is in the initial stages of research. The team reviewed solid waste management and infrastructure studies, and developed methods, quality assurance protocol, and connections with industry professionals. The team plans to begin data collection in the summer and conduct research over the next two-and-a-half years.  

“I am really passionate about understanding the environmental, economic, and social impacts of solid waste management, so it’s exciting to work on a project of this nature, which aims to produce a holistic understanding of solid waste management throughout the state of Florida, Sackles said. 

“I find it very inspiring to be a part of such a diverse group of researchers and industry professionals who are working toward a common goal,” Sackles said.  


By Reba Liddy 

ESSIE Marketing and Communications Specialist