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City tries to restore trust to recycling

St. Petersburg says items taken to dropoff sites really are recycled, unlike those placed in alleyway bins.

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 15, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- When the city picked up the specially marked bins Tuesday, a pilot alleyway recycling program came to an unceremonious end in part of the Old Northeast.

For a decade, the program hadn't been recycling the paper and plastic at all, but rather had been sending the material to the same waste-to-energy incinerator as regular garbage. And that has many residents wondering whether they can trust the city to actually recycle what it claims it is recycling.

The city's simple answer: Yes, you can trust us.

"Everything that goes to dropoff sites is taken to recyclers," said Bill Sundstrom, administrative coordinator of the city's recycling. The city maintains 15 sites where residents can drop off recyclable goods that they had already sorted.

Sundstrom said he could not explain the pilot program because he had nothing to do with it. He is responsible for the dropoff sites.

"One was a pilot test project; the other is our ongoing recycle operation," said Tom Lehman, manager of environmental sanitation. "The whole department wasn't involved in doing that stuff."

Sundstrom said that they would not burn the material from the dropoff sites. Instead, they send out big trucks to pick up the rolloff containers in which the recyclable goods are collected at the subcenters around the city.

Trucks visit each site at least once a week to pick up the big bins and empty the contents at local recyclers.

The newspapers are recycled by SP Recycling Corp., a private company. Lee Adkins, division manager of SP Recycling, said they have been picking up the city's newspapers since 1997.

The Fire Department collects the aluminum cans.

The glass, plastic and cardboard are taken to local recyclers such as Browning-Ferris Industries in Pinellas Park. Barbara Dyer, a scale master at BFI, said they have been working with St. Petersburg for a long time.

"I've been here 10 years," she said. "And they've brought stuff here the whole time."

Dyer said trucks come in daily and a good relationship exists between BFI and St. Petersburg.

Yard waste is turned into mulch and given away free to residents. The mulch is made available at six of the dropoff centers in the city.

Both Lehman and Sundstrom said St. Petersburg has a very successful program.

"We do probably one of the best jobs around," Lehman said.

From Jan. 1 to March 31, St. Petersburg collected about 12,500 tons of recyclable goods.

Sundstrom said Pinellas County collects the most goods per capita in the state and St. Petersburg collects the most in the county. "The city is concerned with recycling," he said.

"We encourage people to use the brush sites," he said. "It's a positive program."

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