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Spring Hill has good recycling turnout

About half of the homes in a pilot program of curbside recycling have been participating in the first month.

By DAN DeWITT
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 16, 2002


SPRING HILL -- When Jim Duerstock received his blue and green recycling bins from the county last month, he lined them up next to his garbage can.

Now, when Duerstock or his wife, Trudy, throw something away, he said, "we just drop it in the appropriate spot. It really couldn't be easier."

The one-year pilot program, which is free to the residents it serves, was designed to test whether Hernando residents will accept curbside recycling. The early statistics, along with comments from people such as Duerstock, suggest they will.

About 50 percent of the 10,000 homes included in the program have been participating, said Stephanie Burkhardt, the county's assistant utilities director.

The statewide average for curbside programs serving single-family homes is 43 percent, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection, a figure that includes several mandatory programs.

In voluntary programs, Burkhardt said, "you typically see participation rates of 30 or 35 percent. . . . We're very, very encouraged by what we're getting."

The early success is due, in part, to the county's effort to make curbside recycling as easy as possible, said Chris Lukowiak, the county's solid waste operations manager.

"It's common knowledge in this industry: The more convenient you make things, the more people you are going to get to cooperate," Lukowiak said.

The bins were distributed early last month to 10,005 homes in the 34608 ZIP code, which is in central Spring Hill. Residents were instructed to put newspaper and cardboard in the blue bins and, in the green ones, plastic containers and steel and aluminum cans. The residents set the bins at the curb one day a week, which in most cases coincides with one of their garbage pickup days.

Hernando's method is more convenient than sorting more varieties of recycled goods into more bins, as some programs require, Lukowiak said. It is far more convenient than toting materials to a dropoff center, the system the county has relied on for more than a decade.

"It's a lot easier to bring two bins to the curb than storing this stuff around the house for a while and then lugging it to the dropoff center," Lukowiak said.

The commission approved the program in August 2001 as an effort to change the minds of residents who in the past have resisted curbside recycling. In 1994, 80 percent of those who answered a county survey said they would not be willing to pay for such a program.

Before the program started, Hernando was the largest of the 14 counties statewide that had no curbside program. Partly because of that, the county has consistently failed to meet state guidelines on the reuse of common household materials.

A state law passed in 1988 required counties to recycle 30 percent of the trash that would otherwise end up in landfills.

Hernando has generally met that goal, mostly by recycling large amounts of construction debris, tires and yard waste. But the same law urged counties to recycle 50 percent of household materials the state considered the easiest to reuse -- newspaper, glass, plastic containers, steel cans and aluminum cans.

Most years, the county has fallen well short of that mark for all items except newspapers, and its record for steel and aluminum cans has been particularly poor. In 2000, for example, 17 tons of aluminum cans were collected at the county's 22 dropoff centers and in other containers. Nearly 3,000 tons, meanwhile, were dumped into the landfill.

That means not only that these cans are needlessly occupying space there, but also that the county is missing out on a good source of revenue. The county earned $471,000 in sales of recycled material in the 2000-01 fiscal year, said Jim Cargill, the county's recycling coordinator. The curbside program is expected to boost that figure considerably -- though probably not enough to pay for itself -- especially if it can retrieve more aluminum.

"Aluminum cans command the highest price," Cargill said.

The county is currently receiving $920 per ton of aluminum compared to $65 per ton of newspaper, and $225 per ton of the most desirable form of plastic, the type used in translucent milk jugs.

All forms of glass bring in far less, and the county must actually pay to get rid of green-tinted glass. For that reason, the county excluded glass from its curbside pickup program and may phase it out of its recycling program altogether. A new law allows counties to drop one item from the list of five household items they are required to recycle.

"Glass is the one everyone's going to drop," Cargill said. "It's a nightmare."

The benefits of trimming the curbside program to only the most lucrative items could be seen as Ron Fowler worked his route on Thursday morning.

The company he works for, Waste Management of Pasco, won the $225,000 contract to collect recyclables for the pilot program.

The money became available last year with the end of a long-term contract that required the county to pay Pasco County at least $1.8-million per year to burn waste in its incinerator. The termination of that contract also left the county looking for other ways to divert more of its waste stream from flowing into the landfill.

Fowler drives one of two trucks that circulate through routes of about 1,000 homes each, five days a week.

Working quickly, Fowler parks the truck, which has steering wheels on both sides, steps onto the edge of a lawn on Horizon Drive and dumps the bins into slots mounted on the outside of his truck.

Paper goes in one; plastic and aluminum in another. When the side-mounted containers are filled -- usually after four or five stops -- Fowler pushes a button, and they are automatically lifted and dumped into the truck's main cargo box, which is divided into three compartments: one for paper, another for plastic and metal, and a third, smaller one, for refuse that does not belong in the bins.

When Fowler comes upon some large wine bottles that cannot be recycled, he places them in the third compartment and fills out a form telling the resident that such items should not be left in the bins.

On some streets, few residents had left the bins. On others, Fowler encountered bins left in nearly every front yard.

"It's peer pressure," said Lukowiak. "If you live on a block with seven homes on it and five of them recycle, pretty soon the other two will do it, too."

For that reason, he said, he expects more and more people in the area to start recycling. But participation can also dip once initial enthusiasm dies down, said Karen Moore, a state DEP environmental specialist.

"They should keep marketing the program. They should keep educating people," Moore said. "That is the key to recycling."

The county has money available for marketing the program, Burkhardt said. Because of this, and because of the high percentage of people currently taking part, she said, she expects to have good news to report when the County Commission decides what to do after the one-year program comes to an end.

"In about nine months, I'm going to have to go back to the board and say, 'These are the numbers. What do you want us to do?' " she said.

If participation remains high, she said, it should encourage commissioners to expand to the rest of Spring Hill -- an additional 25,000 homes -- meaning more than half of the county's residents would have access to curbside recycling.

They would eventually have to pay to participate, Burkhardt said, but probably less than the state average of $3.50 per month.

"We still think, no matter what, it should be $2 per house per month," she said. "I don't look to see anything exorbitant."

-- Dan DeWitt covers the city of Brooksville, politics and the environment and can be reached at 754-6116. Send e-mail to dewitt@sptimes.com.

Blue bin, green bin

Hernando County's pilot voluntary curbside recycling program began May 13 in the 34608 ZIP code. Residents set their blue and green bins at the curb one day a week, which in most cases coincides with one of their garbage pickup days. Here's what goes in -- and what is not supposed to go in -- each bin:

BLUE BINS: For newspaper and all kinds of cardboard, including cereal boxes and corrugated cardboard. Drivers will also pick up pizza boxes if they are clean. But "we don't want anything with food in it," said Jim Cargill, the county's recycling coordinator. Also out are junk mail, telephone books and computer paper, although those items can be taken to the county's dropoff recycling centers.

GREEN BINS: For steel and aluminum cans and plastics marked as either No. 1 or No. 2, including bottles for soda, milk, water and detergent. They are not for glass, aluminum foil or plastic foam.

For information about the program, call 754-4112.

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