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Column

County should build on its recycling successes

By JEFF WEBB
Published February 13, 2005


It's always nice to have options, and Stephanie Burkhardt gave several to the Hernando County commissioners when she briefed them last week about the curbside recycling program.

Burkhardt, director of the county's Solid Waste Division, told the commission they could maintain the status quo (mandatory participation for about 32,000 residents), expand the program (including making curbside pickups mandatory everywhere in the county), or scrap the program altogether and revert to the old system (when residents voluntarily placed their recyclables in strategically placed roll-off bins).

At the same time, Burkhardt heralded the success of the recycling program. Some highlights from her presentation:

Since curbside collections of newspaper, cardboard, plastic containers and metal cans began in Spring Hill in May 2002, the amount of recyclables shipped to market has increased 71 percent, accounting for 54 percent of the total the county processes.

The cost per home for once-a-week pickup is $1 a month. By comparison, the state average for that level of service is $3.43 per home, per month.

Most of the problems that plagued the program when it first began have been worked out. They were primarily the shortcomings of the hauler, Waste Management Inc., which is paid to collect and deliver the recyclables to the county landfill. The county sorts and sells the materials and uses the proceeds to subsidize the program. That's why it's so inexpensive to customers.

Let's review: More people are participating. Fewer people are complaining. The cost remains a pittance. And, by recycling garbage instead of just burying it, the county has saved an estimated $545,000 in space at the landfill and extended the life of that facility by several years.

Clearly, curbside recycling is not just working, it has achieved a level of success that few other local government initiatives can claim.

That's why the commission should reject any option that doesn't increase curbside recycling. Ideally, that would mean expanding the program to include the entire county. Everybody pays; everybody participates, and everybody - including the environment - benefits.

But if the commissioners aren't ready to make that leap, they could take some intermediate steps in the meantime.

First, they could expand the mandatory curbside collection area, which now mirrors the mandatory garbage collection area in Spring Hill. Planners now estimate that the area generally known as Spring Hill has about 85,000 of the county's 150,000 residents. If the hauler can accommodate the increase, the county could easily double the 32,000 homes that now receive the service.

Second, now that the commission and School Board are making a concerted effort to cooperate, they should explore the idea of placing recycling drop-off bins at every campus. The commission's decision last week to no longer accept glass at those bins eliminates one of the schools' major complaints, which was broken bottles in the parking lots.

Finally, taking a longer view, the commission should consult its legal staff to determine the best way, either through an ordinance or an amendment to the comprehensive growth management plan, to stipulate that all new housing developments participate in the curbside recycling program. The commission could establish a set number that would trigger the requirement, say 300 or more homes. For smaller single-family or multifamily developments, the commissioners could link it to the density of the proposed housing.

For instance, the proposed Sunrise development just east of I-75 near Ridge Manor may have as many as 4,800 new homes. Although it might be too late to dictate such an agreement on a development that is already in the pipeline, it couldn't hurt to ask. The recyclable waste from that development, added to the thousands of other homes proposed elsewhere in the county, adds up to huge savings in money and the longevity of the landfill.

And, if commissioners can wrap their arms around that idea, they might squeeze a little tighter and also require developers to pay an impact fee, which could be used to offset the costs of expanding the recycling program. Clearly, the garbage created by the larger developments creates an impact on a fundamental county service. It certainly would be in the public interest to recycle more, and a reasonable, uniform assessment would not create an undue burden on the developers any more than it would the residents who eventually buy their homes.

The sooner the commission could put that concept into law, the better. Plans for new developments are popping up like anthills on scrub land.

But if the commissioners choose to dawdle, it may not be too long before Burkhardt has to give them another option - paying to enlarge the landfill or spend more than $300-million to build an incinerator.

Jeff Webb can be reached at 754-6123 or webb@sptimes.com

[Last modified February 13, 2005, 01:07:16]


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