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Monday, Sep 22, 2014

St. Pete agrees to explore curbside recycling

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ST. PETERSBURG - This city may be Florida's first designated "green city" but it is the only major city in the state that does not provide a regular pickup of recyclable trash to every household.

Now, city leaders have ordered staff to study how much it would cost to add an extra curbside pickup service for recyclables, such as glass bottles, paper and plastic.

For years, city officials have said residents do not want to pay extra for recycling. They agreed to study the issue after an April report sponsored by the St. Petersburg Chapter of the League of Women Voters blasted the city's trash service as outdated and inadequate.

St. Petersburg offers a subscription curbside service through a private waste hauler for residents willing to pay an extra $3.75 per month. Only about 7,000 homes pay for the service, though. Universal curbside recycling would be factored into residents' regular trash fees.

"While all the other cities do it, it does raise the question: Are we overlooking something?" said Councilman Steve Kornell.

The city's study is due to be completed before the end of the year. It will consider the cost of having city truck pick up recyclables and whether it could be provided cheaper by a private company. Mayor Bill Foster said it will fall to the City Council to decide whether to pass on the expense to residents if the program goes ahead.

"We're going to cost this thing out," Foster said. "It's not that I am against universal curbside recycling. It comes down to cost and who has to pay."

The League of Women Voters' study, which was conducted by Kessler Consulting, concluded the $22.33 residents pay for trash pickup is more expensive than other Pinellas cities that already pick up recyclables.

Mike Connors, the city's public works administrator, said the comparison was flawed because the city's monthly fee covers services such as pickup for tires and batteries and rodent control. Most other cities either charge extra for those services or do not offer them.

He also disputed the $745,000 that Kessler said the city could make from selling recyclables, saying the price of recyclable material has plummeted in recent months from about $100 to $15 per ton.

A suggestion that the city switch one of its twice-weekly trash pickups to a recyclable pickup would not work for about 40 percent of residents who put their trash in shared 300-gallon alley containers that are usually full by the time they're emptied, Connors said.

"We would have garbage strewn all around those containers," he said.

The city recycles about 35,000 tons of yard waste per year, much of which is used as compost by tomato growers in Manatee County. It also recycles about 5,000 tons of electronics and about 25,000 tons of asphalt, roofing material and other construction debris.

Most of the city's solid waste is burned in a waste-to-energy plant. The leftover ash is dumped in the county landfill.

Karen Coale, president of the League of Women Voters, said her group would be happy to work with city officials on ways to introduce recycling.

"Every other major city in the state has done it," she said. "Why can't we?" .

Cathy Harrelson, a leader of the Suncoast Sierra Club, said it was long overdue for the city to introduce recycling.

"This is the kind of amenity that when people move here, they can't believe we don't have this," she said.

codonnell@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7654

Twitter: @codonnellTBO

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