Part of the marine life killed by the red tide transformed into energy

While most of the Red Tide Debris is destined for county landfill, some of it is actually turned into something much more useful.

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — More than two million pounds of dead marine life have been discovered along Pinellas County beaches in recent weeks, all because of the red tide.

And while most of this debris is destined for the county landfill, some of it is actually turned into something much more useful: energy – powering thousands of local homes.

“All of the red tide debris that is removed from Pinellas County ends up here at our solid waste disposal complex. We have two ways to dispose of the material. It can either be here at our waste energy facility , or in our landfill,” said Stephanie Watson, Pinellas County Recycling Program Manager.

Until recently, the county averaged about 120 tons or 12 trucks a day. It’s 1,640 tonnes to date.

Rather than just rotting away, the county is trying to keep all of this debris from being wasted. Instead, the county turns it into energy by incinerating it at the Pinellas Waste to Energy Facility.

“We burn enough trash here every day to power the equivalent of 45,000 homes,” Watson said.

Unfortunately, only about 15% of the debris can be used to generate energy. The majority still end up in the county landfill.

“We would prefer to send all of the red tide debris to our residual energy facility,” Watson said. “However, if the red tide debris contains sand, it’s not good for our equipment. It’s a big machine as you can see, so it has to go to the dump.

Still, the people we spoke to, many of whom have been faced with rot and more stench than they can handle, say they’re glad not everything went to waste.

“You know, that sounds reasonable,” said Alan Perry, whose neighborhood smelled like dead fish for weeks. “I don’t know the full impacts of burning it, but it sure sounds better than throwing it away.”

“I think anything we can do to avoid throwing it in the landfill, I totally agree,” said Patricia Sapol.

As for dead marine life deemed unsuitable for recycling:

“Before receiving a load at the landfill, we dig a hole. We are preparing for loading. We bury it,” Watson said. “And then we cover it up, and that helps control the odors from the red tide debris.”

Pinellas County is already working to collect as much dead sea life as possible while still offshore. It’s good for beaches, businesses and tourism.

But solid waste workers say it also allows them to direct a lot more debris where it can be turned into energy, with less waste ending up in the landfill.

Pinellas County has a 30-year Solid Waste Management Master Plan. Their goal is to have a zero-waste landfill by 2050. They are currently studying 28 strategies to reduce what is brought to the county landfill, which is expected to reach capacity in about 75 years.

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