One Winter Garden has joined in the fight against a plastic-waste facility proposed in east Winter Garden.
The community advocacy organization is urging residents to fight PureCycle Technologies, which is proposing to build its latest facility on land located in Orange County but abutting the city.
The facility would be located at 851 E. Maple St., near roughly 1,800 residents in the traditionally black neighborhood.
According to the PureCycle website, the company, headquartered in Orlando, announced last fall it was building a plastic recycling prep facility in Winter Garden. The facility would sort and process polypropylene plastic (designated as No. 5 plastic), which is used for items including food and general-use containers, toys, automotive, and building and construction, as well as in agriculture.
“We’re literally doing everything we can to get the community involved to let them know this is our backyard,” said Chloe Johnson Brunson, vice president of One Winter Garden. “At our monthly meetings, we tell people, ‘Hey, you guys, you need to be involved in this. This is no good for our neighborhood.’ Who wants this in their neighborhood?”
Flyers have been printed to notify residents of what could be coming to their neighborhood, and Brunson and One Winter Garden president Jamie Holley walked door to door last month handing them out to citizens.
“This isn’t acceptable in our community,” Brunson said. “Put something positive (in) that when we’re gone, it’s something the kids can have and help benefit for a good future. (PureCycle) does nothing for us.”
The Plastic Pollution Coalition — a global alliance of organizations, businesses and thought leaders working toward a world free of plastic pollution — has announced it is supporting One Winter Garden in its fight against PureCycle. PPC is spreading the message that “PureCycle Technologies’ planned plastic waste facility has no place in their community due to the potential risks it could pose to residents, including the release of microplastics and other hazardous chemical pollution.”
PPC reached out to One Winter Garden after learning of PureCycle’s intentions. Austin Arthur, secretary of One Winter Garden, said he has kept in touch with PPC.
“We share a common goal; we have a common foe, and it’s PureCycle,” he said. “I’ve been working to make sure they understand the issue from our perspective.”
One Winter Garden meets at the Healthy West Orange building on East Plant Street on the first Thursday of each month to discuss topics of interest and importance to east Winter Garden. For information on the organization, call (407) 809-8378 or email [email protected].
On Sept. 6, 50 environmental nongovernmental organizations from across the United States — including Greenpeace US, The Last Beach Cleanup and Sierra Club — joined PPC and One Winter Garden in its fight in a letter sent to Dustin Olsen, CEO of PureCycle Technologies Inc., along with the CEOs of seven PureCycle Partners. The letter requested PureCycle respect the serious concerns raised by the east Winter Garden community and abandon its plans for a plastic waste sorting facility there.
According to PPC: “The potential consequences of PureCycle’s planned activities and operations include release of toxic chemical and microplastic pollution, noxious odors, noise and light pollution, increased truck and vehicle traffic, emission of climate-warming greenhouse gases, and high risk of fires and explosions.”
Brunson grew up on nearby Maxey Drive, and her grandfather, Daniel Johnson, still lives on the street.
“It’s in his backyard,” Brunson said of the proposed facility. “(My family) said they always had to deal with one thing or another in this community. There is so much history in this community. It’s very rich in culture. So, to me, that’s very sentimental to my grandfather. If you’re going to put something like that in my grandfather’s backyard, I’m going to do something about it.”
“PureCycle belongs in a heavy industry area, not on the same street as our community that we are trying so hard to build up,” Holley told PPC. “We must also take into consideration our environmental health. We have one of the largest lakes in the state right here, Lake Apopka. We do not need PureCycle’s tainted discharge water polluting our lake. Then there is the noise, the traffic, the foul smells, and the trucks 24 hours a day. It’s not wanted or needed here by the residents.”
CITY VS. COUNTY
City of Winter Garden officials have made clear their opposition to PureCycle.
“The city has an obligation to protect our community and our citizens,” Winter Garden Mayor John Rees said in a statement issued by the city. “If a resolution cannot be reached, Winter Garden is prepared to go the distance.”
The city announced it will legally challenge Orange County’s zoning approval for the recycling facility. In July, Winter Garden elected officials passed a resolution to initiate conflict-resolution procedures with Orange County regarding its zoning manager’s approval of PureCycle.
The city first learned of PureCycle when the company attempted to annex its site into the city. The request was withdrawn after the city put certain criteria in place. Without the city’s knowledge, the company then asked Orange County to separately approve its proposed plastic waste-recovery use.
The county zoning department initially denied PureCycle’s request but later reversed the decision and issued an approval to allow the use under county zoning.
At the Aug. 25 Winter Garden City Commission meeting, attorney A. Kurt Ardaman said the city had a meeting with staff from Orange County regarding the ongoing controversy. Ardaman said a resolution was not reached and hopes PureCycle will agree to a community meeting in the near future.
Nicole Wilson, Orange County District 1 Commissioner, said she initially supported the addition of the facility but changed her stance once she learned more about the company and its processes.
“I haven’t had any ability to utilize my position or discretion, because there wasn’t a zoning change,” she said. “The zoning determination never came to me or the Board of County Commissioners — because the use wasn’t substantially different. It was industrial … and it would have required a different type of rezoning for me to have had the ability to review or deny, so it stayed with staff.
“The city of Winter Garden had more discretion, because of the water consumption and the wastewater concerns,” Wilson said. “I early on had the opportunity to speak with (City Manager) Jon Williams. He said very early on the city of Winter Garden is likely going to deny and do whatever it takes to make sure they are getting the answers.”
Wilson said her only interaction with PureCycle was in the initial discussions of the company building in the area.
“Their description of what would be happening in the facilities — it was a very introductory meeting, and it was a non-detailed description of what would be going on in the facility, so my ability to actually know what the chemical process was going on … I didn’t have the opportunity,” she said. “I was led to believe the Winter Garden facility would be for sorting and lab work (back in August 2021).”
She has since had a chance to research the activities that would take place at such a facility.
“I support the city of Winter Garden and the people of Winter Garden in trying to protect their water supply and their environment,” she said.
Representatives from PureCycle have issued some additional details about the proposed facility and its intended use.
• The prep facility will exclusively serve as a sorting facility for polypropylene. It is not a Materials Recovery Facility. Feed pre-processing (feed prep) at its Central Florida facility uses a mechanical process, no chemicals or solvents are involved.
• The facility will be clean and quiet (below regulatory standards), producing no odors or contaminants, and operate at below average noise levels. Moreover, plastics will not be washed or cleaned at this facility, and no pollutants or microplastics will be discharged into the wastewater system.
• PureCycle plans to schedule trucks only during regular work hours and spread them out to reduce congestion. Currently, it does not anticipate more than two trucks per hour. This will maximize efficiency while minimizing traffic congestion and noise in the neighborhood.
• PureCycle will not be burning plastics at the facility and is opposed to doing so.
• PureCycle expects the facility would create 30 to 40 well-paid, skilled jobs and hire east Winter Garden residents to fill them. Its goal is to create opportunities for career growth and advancement for those in east Winter Garden.