Recycling: How are we doing?
A third of the county's trash is recycled, a curbside service for most folks in south Pinellas.
By RITA FARLOW
Published April 22, 2007
Tom and Jane Duquette are committed recyclers.
The Gulfport couple make fertilizer from composted leaves and food scraps. They mulch their trees with shredded lawn clippings and recycle their plastic bottles and aluminum cans.
Now, they're happy they can recycle their junk mail, too, through a pilot program the city started last month for mixed paper.
In south Pinellas, every city except St. Petersburg and Madeira Beach offers some type of curbside recycling.
St. Petersburg tried curbside recycling many years ago, but concluded that it wasn't popular enough or cost effective. Instead, the city encourages its residents to take recyclables to county dropoff sites.
"We feel that's the most environmentally sound process of recycling," said Bill Sundstrom, the city's sanitation coordinator.
Curbside collection requires more trucks on the road, which means higher fuel consumption, he said. Also, people typically use potable water to rinse out cans and bottles, which stresses another resource.
Even without a curbside program, Sundstrom says, St. Petersburg residents recycle more per capita than any other city in the county. He measures that by the amount of material dropped off at the county sites inside city limits.
Madeira Beach scrapped its curbside program in 2005, citing cost and a lack of participation. Residents there can take certain recyclables to a dropoff site at City Hall. There is some talk among city officials now of trying to revive it.
In Pinellas Park, officials have embarked on several initiatives designed with the environment in mind. In addition to curbside recycling, workers use mulch made from recycled tires in parks, medians and other city facilities. The city also uses recycled paper in printing city brochures and fliers.
Recycling is a no-brainer, says Andy Fairbanks, waste reduction program coordinator for Pinellas County. "If it can be used again, why should we be burying it or burning it?" he said.
The county has dozens of dropoff sites, where people can bring items like cans and bottles, lawn clippings and corrugated cardboard. A separate site collects hazardous materials like electronics and chemicals.
In 2005, Pinellas County had a 31 percent recycling rate. That means that nearly a third of everything the waste produced by county residents was recycled, either through curbside collection or the dropoff centers. The rest of the garbage goes to the county's waste-to-energy plant or the landfill.
"The biggest chunk of the waste stream is going to the waste-to-energy plant," Fairbanks said. "When we burn garbage, we get energy and we reduce the volume by 90 percent." (As for "smoke," that's steam, Pinellas County Utilities says. Modern pollution controls ensure that emissions are below permitted limits at the plant.)
But now a sobering number: More than 850-million tons of solid waste went directly to the landfill in 2005, Fairbanks said.
In Gulfport, about 115 residents in the city's Stetson area have signed up for the mixed-paper pilot program, which will continue through June.
If the program is successful, city officials will consider expanding the program to other areas, said Don Sopak, Gulfport's public works director.
A county waste composition analysis done in 2000 showed that paper accounted for the largest percentage of recyclable material going into the trash. From there, it goes to the county's waste-to-energy plant or the landfill.
Gulfport doesn't recycle glass. It stopped about a year ago after the company the city sold to went out of business. With extra space on city trucks, city officials started looking to mixed paper, which accounts for 33 percent of the county's waste stream.
The Duquettes of Gulfport said they recycle because it's good for the environment. But it's also practical.
"It really has cut down on the garbage," Jane Duquette said.
Times staff writer Anne Lindberg contributed to this report.
If you go
Find a dropoff site near you
The Pinellas County Recycling Directory includes a list of dropoff recycling locations in Pinellas County as well as conservation tips. Visit www.pinellascounty.org/ utilities/recycling-directory/ index.htm.
Who does what
St. Petersburg: The city does not offer curbside collection. There are dropoff sites throughout the city for aluminum cans, mixed metal, corrugated cardboard, glass, magazines, junk mail, newspapers, plastic bottles and yard waste.
Pinellas Park: Offers curbside recycling for aluminum and steel cans, glass, newspapers and plastic bottles. Yard waste can be dropped off at 12950 40th St. N.
Seminole: Curbside recycling for aluminum and steel cans, glass, newspapers and plastic bottles.
St. Pete Beach: Curbside recycling for aluminum and steel cans, glass, newspapers and plastic bottles.
Treasure Island: Curbside recycling for aluminum and steel cans, corrugated cardboard, glass, newspapers and plastic bottles. Loose yard waste can be bagged for pickup. Larger brush cannot exceed 3 feet in length or 5 inches in diameter and should be bundled.
Source: 2007 Pinellas County Recycling Directory.