PureCycle faces opposition in Florida over recycling center

PureCycle Technologies Inc. is facing significant opposition to the company’s plans to operate a plastics sortation facility in a historically Black neighborhood in Winter Garden, Fla.

The company finds itself up against a community group named One Winter Garden, a coalition of environmental groups and the city itself.

PureCycle, which is nearing completion of its initial polypropylene recycling facility in Ironton, Ohio, also has plans for a similar facility in Augusta, Ga. The company wants to create a network of localized collection and sortation centers to capture used PP that would then be funneled to these two larger processing locations.

But plans for just such a location in an unincorporated area surrounded by Winter Garden are under fire.

Views from One Winter Garden and PureCycle are diametrically opposed.

“It’s not wanted by the community at all,” said Austin Arthur, secretary and treasurer for One Winter Garden.

“This is an incredible opportunity for the region,” PureCycle CEO Dustin Olson said.

One Winter Garden has a litany of concerns about the proposed land use centering around impacts the operations could have on the East Winter Garden neighborhood, including truck traffic, pollution, odors and groundwater quality, Arthur said.

PureCycle sees the location, which is largely complete and awaiting some finishing touches on infrastructure and electrical, as an economic catalyst that is not being understood by detractors.

“This is more about an impression of what we are without seeing what we are,” Olson said. “It’s more of just concerned people wanting to know what’s coming into their community. And we’re all about that. We actually think we’re very, very good for the community.”

But that’s not what Arthur and his colleagues at One Winter Garden believe. Not even close.

East Winter Garden is a part of the city that has historically been burdened by industrial plants being located close to residential areas, Arthur said.

“This is the same old, same old, taking advantage of a community that they probably feel many not have the resources to say or to do anything,” he said. “The community simply does not want it.”

While PureCycle is on one side and One Winter Garden is on the other, the battle actually includes even more combatants. This includes a disagreement between the city of Winter Garden and Orange County. The county approved plans for the recycling center, located on unincorporated county land surrounded by city property. But Winter Garden is challenging that approval and has signaled a willingness to litigate.

“Unfortunately, PureCycle is moving ahead with its project in unincorporated Orange County notwithstanding the city’s request that PureCycle work with the city to make sure PureCycle’s use meets all of the city’s health, safety and welfare requirements. Winter Garden’s requirements protect our citizens and the surrounding communities,” the city said.

Winter Garden has initiated what is called “conflict resolution procedures” with Orange County regarding the county’s alleged “erroneous determination” allowing the facility. Winter Garden also has signaled the city is willing to sue to ensure the company “meets the city’s requirements and public, health, safety and welfare are preserved.”

“It is the city’s hope that a mutual agreement can be reached with Orange County and PureCycle. However, the city has an obligation to protect our community and our citizens. If a resolution cannot be reached, Winter Garden is prepared to go the distance,” Mayor John Rees said in a statement.

The Last Beach Cleanup, a nonprofit group that opposes plastic pollution, has issued a letter co-signed by 50 environmental groups opposing the Winter Garden location.

“We are concerned that an unwelcome plastic waste facility is located in a historically Black, economically disadvantaged community under the guise of creating a ‘sustainable’ and ‘circular’ economy. In reality, PureCycle’s choice and actions to push the location through constitute a social and environmental injustice,” the letter states.

“PureCycle’s troubling plan to override the community’s objections and bypass the city’s economic development standards would inflict numerous harms on residents and the environment while providing few local benefits,” the letter continues.

PureCycle’s Olson was asked about the situation in Winter Garden prior to the opposition letter coming out from the nonprofits. The company was later asked to specifically comment on the opposition letter and issued an additional statement.

“For nearly a year, PureCycle has worked closely with local Orange County and Winter Garden government officials to address any questions and concerns. Until very recently, officials seemed supportive of the facility being located at the present site, which sits just outside of Winter Garden’s city limits,” the company said.

“This central Florida site is the ideal setting to bring 21st century tech jobs to the area. In fact, we expect to create 30-40 well-paid, skilled jobs and hire East Winter Garden residents to fill them. We hoped local officials would want to bring jobs back to the city and provide opportunities to a neighborhood that has long been underserved.

“PureCycle’s PreP facility is in an industrial zoned area and will exclusively serve as a sorting facility for plastics — it is not a materials recovery facility (MRF). As such, it will not serve as a drop-off area for curbside waste,” the company said.

“All plastic prepped at our central Florida site will later be processed, purified at a different location (in Ohio or Georgia) and transformed into an infinitely renewable material that is intended to reduce the need for new plastics and ultimately help keep our waterways, green spaces and communities clean,” the company said.

The CEO said he believes his company can work through the issues and open the Winter Garden facility.

“There’s a lot of noise,” Olson said, before correcting himself. “There’s not actually a lot of noise. There’s some noise. But we’re just talking to them about who we and what we are doing. I’m not at all concerned about that.”

Arthur said PureCycle has lost the trust of the community.

“We don’t want them in our community,” he said. “Our goal is to have them go away.”

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