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Poll to show if recycling is wanted

Curbside recycling in St. Petersburg might cost $2 to $3 more each month, so city administrators want to find out if it's even wanted.

By CANDACE RONDEAUX
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 15, 2002


ST. PETERSBURG -- The city is soon going to survey thousands of residents to gauge their interest in curbside recycling. Do they want it? And if so, how much would they be willing to pay?

Curbside recycling might cost residents $2 to $3 a month extra on their utility bill, city administrators estimate. A subscription program, in which each household could opt in or out, could be priced at up to $5 for those who choose curbside recycling.

The city will poll roughly 3,000 households, selected randomly. A City Council subcommittee will decide by June 13 whether the survey will be conducted by phone or via a questionnaire accompanying city residents' standard utility bill in July or August.

The subcommittee will look at the results and recommend a mandatory, voluntary or no curbside recycling program at all. It could take effect as early as next year.

Between city dropoff centers and private recyclers, the city already has an informal recycling program.

The Department of Sanitation estimates that the city recycled close to one quarter -- or 51,471 tons -- of all the solid waste it picked up last year. Yard waste made up the majority of recycled material, while a little more than 3,000 tons of newspaper, plastics, aluminum and glass were recycled last year.

According to city administrators, the current program of roughly 100 private and public collection centers placed around the city where residents haul and sort aluminum, newspaper, plastic and different colored glass into separate containers costs residents about 35 to 40 cents a month.

Hearings on plans for a potential citywide recycling program could be held as early as this fall after the City Council reviews the survey. If a program is approved, the City Council would seek bids for a recycling contract.

City Council member Jay Lasita, who heads the subcommittee, cautiously favors curbside recycling. He is worried about costs, but said he has received dozens of inquiries expressing interest in recycling.

"I've talked to people who are very frustrated that we don't have something," he said. "They look at Tampa, Pinellas Park and see that we haven't really seemed to pursue this very seriously."

Charles Schauer, the city's director of sanitation, said the survey could be complete by the end of this summer. He is skeptical of the plan.

He and other city administrators say it costs a lot of money to collect recycling at the curbside. They also note that the city makes money selling electricity when the waste is burned to make energy, enough electricity for roughly 45,000 homes.

"The more people who participate in curbside recycling, the more trucks you have to have on the road. It creates more pollution in the neighborhood, more traffic congestion," Schauer said.

Local environmental groups disagree. Linda Demler, a member of the Suncoast Regional Chapter of the Sierra Club, said curbside recycling would be "more energy efficient than using virgin materials for packaging products." She pointed to a curbside recycling program in Clearwater, which uses a city-owned sorting and recycling plant, as a good example of a cost-efficient program.

"Clearwater put money up front for their facilities and they for instance make about $80 per ton for recyling their plastics, whereas we're paying $60 per ton in St. Petersburg to recycle plastics," she said.

The proposal also has neighborhood associations and community organizations buzzing. Fliers calling for support of a curbside recycling program were recently posted on containers at local recycling centers around the city.

Mary Darling, president of the Bayou Highlands Neighborhood Association near Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, thinks her neighborhood would support a recycling program. "I think there's value in it," Darling said. "I would not mind paying $3 for it."

But some community organizations and church groups, who rely heavily on money made from recycling newspaper, said they oppose the plan. The groups collect newspaper in containers provided free by SP Recycling, a company that recycles the paper and markets it to large-scale paper mills across the country.

According to city administrators, SP Recycling, in addition to handling paper collected at city offices, the company took in 2,000 tons of paper from churches and other non-profit groups.

Janet De Baisio, president of St. Petersburg High School's Parent Teacher Student Association, said she counts on the roughly $20 a ton she gets for recycling newspaper with SP Recycling to pay for extracurricular school functions. She and her husband, Daniel, raised close to $1,500 last year, which the high school's Athletic Boosterism Association used to buy a batting cage, team uniforms and tennis balls.

"We did that and we didn't have to sell any candy bars or wrappers or Avon products," De Baisio said.

Lasita, the City Council member, said the subcommittee will do its best to take all of these concerns into consideration in planning the survey. "I don't want there to be any editorializing for or against the program in the survey," he said.

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