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The geography of recycling

Published April 30, 2007

[Times photo: Jim Damaske]
Crushed aluminum cans are spit into the back of a truck trailer at Clearwater's recycling plant. Clearwater is the only city in Pinellas County that actually processes recycled material itself. Other cities take their recycling to Clearwater, where workers prepare waste so that industries reusing the material can simply haul it away from a loading dock.

You can't recycle glass bottles in Clearwater or Belleair, but go right ahead in Dunedin - as long as the bottles are clear.

Feel free to put junk mail, cereal boxes and other "mixed paper" into curbside recycling bins in Clearwater and Dunedin - but not in Safety Harbor, Oldsmar or Tarpon Springs.

Let's put this a different way: The myriad recycling programs in Pinellas County can be darn confusing.

In a county with two dozen different cities, plus the county government itself, rules on recycling change as you cross city lines.

"We're a county of about a million permanent residents, split into 25 municipal entities, " said Andy Fairbanks, Pinellas County's waste reduction program coordinator. Because of the conflicting rules in different locations, Fairbanks said, "our biggest challenge is putting all the information in one place."

* * *

The county has tried. He urges people to go to Pinellas County Web sites to learn what their local governments recycle:

-For recycling rules for all municipalities and unincorporated Pinellas County, visit Check the same site for a listing of drop-off centers. That way, if your own city doesn't take a certain kind of recyclable (such as glass bottles or corrugated cardboard), you can find the nearest drop-off center, whether you live in that city or not.

-The county's A to Z disposal guide at suggests places for taking all kinds of recyclables and other trash. It includes information about how to throw out odd items such as aerosol cans, car batteries, bullets, fluorescent bulbs, plastic grocery bags, herbicides, propane tanks, radioactive waste, roofing materials, Styrofoam, televisions and yard waste.

* * *

In general, curbside recycling is for people who live in single-family homes, not those in apartment complexes. But many apartments have their own drop-off centers.

All North Pinellas cities will pick up recycled goods you set out in bins by the curb. But if you live in unincorporated parts of the county, this service is generally not available.

Most cities charge single-family homeowners for the recycling service whether they use it or not. An exception is Dunedin, which charges only those who use it.

Some cities also operate drop-off centers, and so does the county. So if you live in Clearwater, which doesn't recycle glass, you could drive your bottles to a Largo drop-off center at Tri-City Plaza at U.S. 19 and East Bay Drive, which does accept glass.

At least, it accepts glass for the moment. Largo is surveying residents on whether they would like to change what they recycle. One scenario is that residents might choose to add mixed paper to their recycling bins, rather than glass.

Brenna Barrett, Largo's recycling coordinator, said city officials will carefully study the survey results and give residents' opinions great weight before deciding whether to make any changes. Largo residents can take the survey online by going to

* * *

Statewide, the number of facilities that process glass has gone down, possibly because companies tend to sell products in plastic bottles more often than glass these days, said Peter Goren and Ron Henricks, who both work on recycling issues for the state Department of Environmental Protection in Tallahassee.

That's what is driving some cities to phase out glass recycling - they have to truck it down to a processor in Sarasota.

"It was a very easy decision to go to mixed paper from glass, " said Tom Downes, head of solid waste and general support services for Clearwater.

Clearwater made that decision about two years ago because the market for glass was drying up, plus city residents produce a much greater volume of "mixed paper" - which includes junk mail, magazines, shredded paper, cereal boxes, paper towel rolls, phone books, paperback books and more.

Clearwater is the only city in the county that acts as its own processor, getting the recycled newspaper, mixed paper, newspaper, steel and aluminum cans and plastic bottles ready for resale to companies that can use it to make new goods. Other cities take their recycling to Clearwater.

"It's working well for all for us, " Downes said.

Times staff writer Jared Leone contributed to this report.

Tale of the trash


X = Curbside recycling Y = Drop-off recycling C, B, G = Clear, brown and green glass

City  Alum.cans         Cardboard    Glass Mags Mixed Paper News-paperPhone books  Plstc boltsSteel cans 
 Bellair Bluffs X  X(C, B, G)   X  X X
 Largo XY XY XY(C, B, G) Y Y XY XY XY 
 Pinellas County      Y  Y Y Y 



[Last modified April 29, 2007, 23:00:07]

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