Recycling program needs attention now

Published May 17, 2007

Here's how you improve recycling in Pasco County: Ignore it. No, wait. Toss people some blue bags. That will do it. No, study it. With a pilot program. Are they kidding? This thing has more pilots than an airline. Exactly what good is a new pilot program if you don't pay any attention to the results of your last pilot program?

That is the question Pasco commissioners should be asking after an all-too-brief discussion on recycling as part of a 90-minute work session on solid waste. Commissioners need to work on their trash talk.

Expanding the incinerator? Nobody really mentioned it because of the costs. Using a county landfill? Talk stopped nearly immediately when County Administrator John Gallagher remembered the county would need a separate landfill for yard waste since that cannot be buried with household trash. A private-sector plan for a commercial landfill in east Pasco? It didn't even merit a bullet on the PowerPoint. Adding newspapers to curbside recycling? Not a word. Additional recycling centers? Downplayed by the staff as inefficient.

However, the county's dozen trash haulers did lobby successfully for a rate increase. Not that they didn't merit it. The rates were set in 1992. Still, it means homeowners can plan on paying more for curbside garbage pick-up with little or nothing extra coming in return.

For a county with an overburdened trash incinerator and plans to send excess garbage to Osceola County, it was an incredibly unproductive effort from a commission with little sense of urgency.

The county's contract with its trash plant operator expires in four years. That might seem a ways away, but consider: It took nearly three years for the county to plan, execute, tally the results and then ignore the data on a pilot program to improve curbside recycling. Its test run in Meadow Pointe showed double the participation among homes issued bins, and a significant increase in the amount of recycled material when the county offered pickup of newspapers.

Few seemed to care. Commissioner Michael Cox wanted mandatory residential recycling. Commissioner Jack Mariano, too, sought a more aggressive approach. They were in the minority.

It is unfortunate. The county knows its voluntary, twice-a-month pick-up of blue bags containing plastics, glass and metal cans is not successful. Curbside recycling is available to almost three-quarters of the county's single-family homes, but only 3, 000 tons of recycled material comes in blue bags annually. By contrast, the incinerator burns a minimum of 326, 000 tons a year.

Maybe the county needs a pilot program to figure out why. Sticking a blue bag over your head and doing nothing is an unacceptable alternative.