Recycling bins idea dumped

Officials flinch at the $1-million cost for the bins, which were popular in a trial run.

Published May 16, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY -- Pasco residents won't be getting blue bins, held up as the solution to the county's low recycling rates.

But they can expect higher bills for trash pickup, based on Tuesday's work session by the County Commission.

With the board's blessing, the county will open talks with its 12 licensed haulers about raising rates. As it is, haulers can charge households up to $9.34 each month for basic service.

There was no such blessing to switch from recycling with blue plastic bags every other week to the bins prevalent in other counties. A commission majority -- Michael Cox, Ann Hildebrand and Ted Schrader -- said they would not support bins, fearful of the costs.

County officials have estimated the cost for bins countywide could hit $1-million, and haulers expressed reluctance to buy new trucks to carry recyclables.

Yet a pilot recycling program last fall in Wesley Chapel, which took three years to organize, showed twice as many residents recycled weekly when using bins instead of bags. The total tonnage of recycled material was the same except for newspapers, which were more likely to be recycled using bins.

But for now, the major changes sought by recycling advocates won't happen.

"We're back to square one again. We haven't made any progress despite the pilot program," said Monica Dear, president of Pasco's RESORCE recycling club, who chided the board's resistance to change.

Dear is a member of Pasco's solid waste advisory committee, which advocated upgraded recycling in March to reduce demands on landfills and the county's overcapacity incinerator.

Residents now buy bags as part of the voluntary recycling program, but Pasco's residential recycling rate has dwindled to 13 percent, according to state statistics. Newspapers are not included in curbside collections, and the board didn't discuss adding them Tuesday.

Instead, the county will explore improving participation by providing residents with bags, perhaps by having haulers drop bags off each week. Another option is weekly pickups, as some haulers do already.

In recent years, the state cut grant money for promoting recycling, turning it over to counties. But Pasco didn't pick up the cost, a move County Administrator John Gallagher, a fan of blue bags, acknowledged hurt participation.

Recycling isn't the only thing falling -- so have haulers' profit margins. The only rate increase since 1992 was a 54-cent hike per month last July for fuel costs.

The monthly pickup fee is separate from a $62 annual assessment to pay for waste disposal.

Haulers expressed little desire Tuesday to switch to recycling bins, and some were reluctant to drop off recycling bags. Nor were they interested in switching to a competitively bid franchise system, guaranteeing them customers -- and potentially easing the switch to mandatory recycling.

"All we need is a little bit of help -- problem solved," Joe Assalti, general manager of Seaside Sanitation in Hudson, said of the rate hike.

David DeCamp can be reached at (727) 869-6232 or ddecamp@sptimes.com.