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Bin there, dumped that: Recycling policy criticized

Apartment dwellers say they get short shrift in the city's recycling program.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 19, 2002

Susan Torok and her boyfriend couldn't bear to put it in the garbage. Any of it.

So for three months, they piled bottles, cans and newspapers in growing heaps on the porch of their South Pointe apartment.

Torok said they had no choice.

Because they live in a complex that doesn't recycle, they have to drive to the University of South Florida -- 12 miles away -- if they want to do the environmentally correct thing.

That's not fair, Torok said: Tampa apartment dwellers should be able to recycle as conveniently as other residents do.

That argument is at the heart of a local Green Party effort to change city policy.

Torok and other members of the Green Party of Hillsborough want Tampa to force apartment complex owners to participate in the city's recycling program -- something city officials are reluctant to do.

As it stands, owners can join the free program if they want. But if they don't, their tenants are out of luck.

Until late last year, when neighborhood recycling was expanded citywide, the city provided recycling bins at more than a dozen drop-off sites.

But those sites, with the exception of the one at USF, were scrapped as part of the expansion.

"We felt like we were duplicating our services," said city recycling coordinator Barbara Heineken.

She said the drop-off program was costly and messy. In some cases, the big bins inspired illegal dumping and attracted vagrants.

Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena acknowledges that drop-off centers can be a problem, but says there ought to be a way to serve apartment residents.

"I would like to see an option for tenants who want to participate in a recycling program and have reticent landlords," she says.

Hillsborough County offers drop-off sites in Town 'N Country and Thonotosassa -- neither convenient for South Tampa.

The Greens lament the waste of recyclables.

"This is tons of stuff that could be recycled and reused," said party co-chair Tammy Harman, who lives in South Seminole Heights.

Torok and her boyfriend are conscientious enough to keep stuff around until they can make the trek to Fowler Avenue.

But most people? If it's a pain, they won't do it, Harman said.

Heineken said the city doesn't force families in single-family homes to recycle. So why would it force apartment owners?

"I'm not for it," Heineken said.

City policy for apartment owners is simple: If you ask, we'll help.

The city will provide containers and pick-up service. All apartment owners have to do is find space.

Heineken said 79 complexes, representing 7,000 apartments, are in the city program. One or two call every week to sign up.

That's another reason not to make it mandatory, Heineken said: "Most of them will do it if the people there want it."

Not so, Torok said.

She said she's been trying to set up a face-to-face meeting with her apartment manager for months. She said she's gotten the runaround.

Since the beginning of the year, the Green Party has called more than 170 complexes to encourage the owners to recycle, Torok said.

At best, a handful may have said yes.

The Greens are circulating a petition to prod City Council to move. So far, they've got 500 signatures.

Heineken said even without bins at their complex or a nearby drop-off site, apartment dwellers have options.

"You could bring it to your mother's house," she said. Or a friend's house.

Torok's response: "Why should you have to?"

-- Times staff writer David Karp contributed to this report. Writer Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3450 or

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