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Recycling plan spurs outcry, worries of growing landfill

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 20, 2002

INVERNESS -- Critics say it's not about the money, or at least, it shouldn't be.

A county proposal to stop collecting glass bottles, steel cans and plastic containers at the drop-off recycling centers has drawn opposition from the civic groups and Scout troops that maintain those recycling centers.

To varying degrees, those groups rely on recycling revenues to pay for their activities. But their main concern is the long-term cost to the county and the environment if those tons of recyclables accumulate in the landfill.

The county estimates 700 tons of glass, steel and plastic would end up in the landfill each year if the county stopped recycling them.

"That will all go into the landfill, which is penny-wise and pound-foolish," said Skip Christensen, president of the Sugarmill Woods Civic Association, which runs a recycling center at the community clubhouse.

"If we're not recycling tin, glass or plastic, people will say, "I'm just going to throw away the newspapers, too.' "

Christensen sent a letter last week urging the County Commission to vote against the proposal at its Meeting Tuesday, which starts at 1 p.m. in the Masonic Building.

The county's Solid Waste Management Division offered the proposal in August based on a new state law that allows counties to pick which materials they will recycle.

Previously, counties had to recycle newspapers, plastic containers, steel cans, glass bottles and aluminum cans.

The new law adds yard waste, cardboard and office paper to the list of materials, but allows counties to choose which items they will recycle, as long as they pick at least four.

"We were asked to determine how the change in legislation could impact our program," said Susan Metcalfe, director of Solid Waste Management.

So Metcalfe ranked the eight recyclable items according to cost effectiveness.

Aluminum cans, yard waste, newspaper and cardboard topped the list of materials worth recycling. Aluminum actually makes money, about $66 net per ton. Yard waste pays for itself through tipping fees at the landfill, and the markets for newspaper and cardboard are stable, she said.

If the county dropped the most expensive items -- glass bottles, steel cans, plastic containers and office paper from county buildings -- it could save about $50,000 a year in recycling costs, Metcalfe said.

The civic groups and Scout troops probably wouldn't see a drop in recycling revenues, she said, because adding cardboard would offset the lost revenues from glass, steel and plastic.

"If we look at it just in economics, then not continuing parts of this program make sense," Metcalfe said. "But that's not the only thing to look at. You could also look at whether or not it's part of an educational process."

After learning about the proposal from a Sept. 4 Citrus Times article, Dick Schnably sent letters to other groups that run the recycling drop-off centers, asking them to join Beverly Hills in opposing the idea. Schnably is president of the Beverly Hills Civic Association, which earns about a third of its income from the roughly 140-tons of recycled materials it collects each year.

"We depend on recycling revenues for our operational funds," Schnably said. "We've got the public used to using it, and we are recycling and that seems to be the big thing right now."

The recycling center at the County Road 488 Plaza is smaller business for the North Citrus Civic Association, which earns about $200 or $300 a year from it. But the group opposes reducing recycling, board member Morris Harvey said. "Whether it saves $50,000 or not is only one part of the formula," Harvey said. "What about the landfill space that isn't used? From my point of view, recycling is something we should be doing."

The 700 tons of recyclable glass, plastic and steel items would fill about 1,075 cubic yards of landfill space each year, Metcalfe estimates. That landfill space costs about $5,500 to excavate, she said.

The extra waste would add to the landfill's operating costs, she added, although the county would likely recoup those costs from the $21,000 in extra tipping fees from the recyclable materials hauled to the landfill.

It will be up to the County Commission to decide Tuesday which is the better tradeoff, after hearing from county staff and avid recyclers like Riverhaven resident Karl Schulz, who has written to Commissioner Vicki Phillips about the issue. "Anything I can recycle, I do it," Schulz said. What about the $50,000 the county could save by dropping the most expensive items from the recycling program?

"Big deal, in a multimillion-dollar budget," Schulz said. "I look upon recycling as a service that government provides the people, not something that makes money."

-- Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at 860-7303 or bhall@sptimes.com .

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