SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) — Each year, tens of thousands of tons of yard waste end up at the landfill in Nokomis. A good portion of that waste comes to the facility in plastic trash bags, but pretty soon that won’t be allowed.

The county is changing its model to cut costs and be more sustainable.

Starting May 1, residents will need to put their leaves, tree trimmings and other yard waste material in paper bags, reusable containers such as trash bags, or in bundles less than 40 pounds and smaller than 4 feet in length and 16 inches in diameter. If it is in a plastic bag, the yard waste will be tagged with a sticker and left at the curb until it is in the proper container.

“By eliminating plastic bags out of the yard waste stream, it will help with the processing of our yard waste materials. Right now, those materials are emptied by hand before they are ground up and turned to mulch and repurposed,” said Wendi Crisp with Sarasota County Solid Waste.

Eliminating plastic bags will save the county about $300,000 each year in labor costs. It’s also part of a larger effort to reduce waste.

“We know that we have got a very conscientious community here in Sarasota. There’s a lot of interest in being able to be a sustainable community, looking at maybe moving more toward the zero-waste type of opportunity. So, taking these plastic bags out of the yard waste will help us move toward those sustainability goals,” said Crisp.

John Schuetze is contracted to work at the landfill. He will be losing his job there in the coming days, but says the county’s decision to cut plastic from the yard waste process just makes sense.

“Once you introduce plastic into a system like this, it leads to scraps of plastic all over the place and how do you pick it up? You pick it up one at a time by a person, and it is nearly impossible. It’s not cost-effective at all and it’s not good for the environment. If you are serious about separating your garbage from your yard waste, you can’t begin by putting it into a plastic bag,” said Schuetze.

Residents we spoke with say they’re all for going green, but say the change is going to impact the green in their wallets. Bridget Wenzel has a large property that she says produces dozens of bags of yard waste each month.

“I have children, you know, I know a lot of people here do and we rely on everything that we make and that is going to be a big jump in our budgets. The county should give us the paper bags to do that with because the cost and expense of doing that is going to be a lot higher for each individual family here,” said Wenzel.

County officials say the change is ultimately the result of Ordinance 2022-069 , which was adopted in 2022 and eliminates the option to accept yard waste in plastic bags for processing at the Central County Landfill.

Residents can find more details on the county’s website.