Let's find the gaps - and fill them

The Sierra Club's Darden Rice wants to see the city ease recycling and get involved in a national climate protection campaign.

Published April 22, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - St. Petersburg resident Darden Rice is national field coordinator for the Sierra Club, a 105-year-old organization founded by naturalist and writer John Muir. Neighborhood Times chatted with Rice last week about the green movement and how it might be applied here.

What is the most important green step the city of St. Petersburg could take now?

I'd say that Mayor Baker needs to sign on to the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement.


And what is that?

Over 453 mayors across the country have signed on to (the agreement), which is the first step for a city to address solutions to global warming. Although the city is addressing some issues through its Green Cities program, we would still like to see specific policies implemented regarding a green fleet and green building standards. Just last week the mayor of Sarasota signed on, and (Tampa) Mayor Pam Iorio has just signed on. The cool cities (national) campaign is about leadership, and it's about implementing specific policies to curb global warming.


What does it mean that St. Petersburg has been designated a Green City?

It means that they have gone through a process with the Florida Green Building Coalition. And it means that they have achieved a certain number of points to be certified as a Florida green local government, and this process has been valuable in terms of getting a picture of what exactly we are doing and what we still need to do. It's been very helpful as a guide and a tool. It should be said the city absolutely deserves credit for the things they are doing, and St. Petersburg in particular has been enacting many policies in terms of water conservation. But the guidance also shows where we need to fill in the gaps. That's not necessarily to punish the city but to give us a clear idea of what we've done so far and what we still need to do.


What is the best way to encourage recycling in St. Petersburg?

The way to encourage recycling is to make it easier for people to do it.


And that would mean?

That would mean curbside recycling. That would be more containers where people have the option of throwing an aluminum can or a glass bottle into a recycling container. Our culture has a throwaway mentality. We throw it away, and it's out of sight and out of mind. If more people realized that what we throw away gets trucked to the incinerators or a landfill, then I think people would become more concerned about the responsible things we can do to reuse these materials instead of just throwing them away.


What do you say to the argument that recycling will cost more?

I'd say we can't burn our way to a cleaner St. Petersburg. We're filling our landfill at a much faster rate than had been originally planned. At some point, whether the county increases its tipping fees, it's going to change the way St. Petersburg crunches its numbers.


So it won't cost as much over the long haul?

No. I think there's also some intangible costs involved with the city having a positive image as well. The fact St. Petersburg does not have easy recycling and curbside recycling is embarrassing. It's a dent in our image as a city.


What are some of the reasons we hear for not having recycling?

We've been told it will be more expensive; we've been told a few years ago citizens were polled, and while many people wanted curbside recycling, not many people wanted to pay a couple of extra bucks a month on their utility bills to pay for it. I've also heard excuses such as, what about the negative environmental consequences of having more diesel trucks making extra trips in order to pick up the curbside recycling materials? To that I say why not make them biodiesel trucks? It's not a persuasive argument when you realize we've just hosted the Grand Prix races and there wasn't a recyclable trash bin in sight.