Waste Management Hierarchy

The Highest and Best Use for Waste

The Department of Solid Waste follows the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Waste Management Hierarchy by managing waste from the most preferred to least preferred options: reduction of waste generated; reuse of resources; recycling and sending materials back into the marketplace; creating electricity via Waste-to-Energy; and landfilling as a last resort.

Graphic of the Waste Management Hierarchy depicting the most preferred method to least preferred method of getting rid of waste
This graphic depicts the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Waste Management Hierarchy. The design is an inverted triangle with the most preferred option of source reduction and reuse at the top, recycling/composting is listed as the second-most preferred, energy recovery is listed as the third-most preferred and the treatment and disposal being the least preferred at the bottom.

The County operates an integrated solid waste management system with programs for waste reduction, reuse, recycling, energy recovery, and disposal. We refer to this system as the “4Rs” as in “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Recover.”


Waste reduction, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, means reducing waste at the source; it is the most environmentally preferred strategy to manage waste. It can take many different forms, including reusing or donating items, buying in bulk, and reducing packaging.  Take this pledge to reduce your use of single use plastics.


The County’s free Mulch Pick Up Program is one example of the County’s reuse programs. Over 270,000 tons of yard trash is diverted from disposal to be ground into usable mulch every year.

Did you know that, according to our waste characterization study, 9.7% of garbage collected is yard trash? Keep yard trash out of the garbage by participating in a curbside yard trash collection program, or drop off at a yard trash processing facility. Use the Where Does It Go? Search Tool to find locations nearest you.


Recycling is the 2nd most preferred method of managing waste. According to EPA, “Recycling is a series of activities that includes collecting used, reused, or unused items that would otherwise be considered waste; sorting and processing the recyclable products into raw materials; and remanufacturing the recycled raw materials into new products. Consumers provide the last link in recycling by purchasing products made from recycled content.” 

Recycling saves natural resources and diverts material from disposal. To learn more about why recycling is important, view the Why Recycling Is Important webpage.

According to the County’s 2021-2022 waste characterization study, 17.6% of disposed material was recyclable material that could have been recycled in local recycling programs; this material includes paper, cardboard, and metal, glass, and plastic containers.

Click here for our Recycling FAQ.


Garbage is sent to the County’s Solid Waste Disposal Complex, where it is managed via the Waste-to-Energy Facility (WTE) and the Bridgeway Acres Landfill. Approximately 80-90% of garbage is burned at the WTE, which reduces the volume by 90%. This helps extend the life of the one and only operating landfill.


Approximately 10-20% of incoming garbage is disposed in the Bridgeway Acres Landfill due to scheduled WTE maintenance periods. Items that are too bulky to fit in the WTE boiler, such as boats, as well as ash from the WTE combustion process are landfilled.

The Bridgeway Acres Landfill has only 80 years of remaining life. If residents were to stop recycling today, the landfill would fill up and be out of service within 60 years. As Florida’s most densely populated county, Pinellas County lacks the space to build another landfill.

Why Waste Reduction and Recycling Are Important

Recycling and waste reduction are critical components of the County’s integrated solid waste management system.

The County’s waste characterization study shows that over 50% of incoming garbage could have been recycled through existing and potential recycling programs.

The WTE is fast approaching its operating capacity, which means that more garbage will need to be landfilled without the added benefit of volume reduction.

Through residents’ waste reduction and recycling efforts, we can increase capacity at the WTE, so that we continue to receive the benefit of volume reduction and avoid filling up our one and only landfill.

Zero Waste to Landfill by 2050

The County recognizes the need to preserve its landfill, maximize its WTE capacity, and maximize recycling and waste reduction efforts. In 2020, the County released its 30-year Solid Waste Master Plan, which includes 28 strategies that best fit the vision of zero waste to landfill by 2050.

You Can Help by Getting Involved

Screenshot of recycling-drop off center Google map
Map of Recycling Drop Off Centers in Pinellas County

Learn More

Additional Resources