Tampa Bay columnists
Mary Jo Melone
World & Nation
AP The Wire
Comics & Games
Home & Garden
Advertise with the Times
Pinellas organizes to get grip on garbage
By EDIE GROSS
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 30, 2000
Pinellas County residents dispose of a whopping 3,000 tons of moldy bread, chicken bones, lawn clippings, out-of-date furniture and other trash each day.
While the 24 city governments either haul away that garbage for residents or contract with a private company to do so, those 105,000 residences in unincorporated areas are on their own when it comes to arranging garbage pickup.
Enter the newly formed Solid Waste Task Force, which will spend the next six months or so talking trash -- how to collect it all, what to toss and what to recycle and how, or whether, to regulate the trash companies that serve Pinellas County.
The task force, made of residents and officials from Pinellas County, the city of Clearwater and trash hauling companies, plans to survey the public in the coming months to find out what customers want.
"If we make changes, we have to be sure that whatever changes we make are the right ones for Pinellas County, that they improve the quality of life," said Warren Smith, director of the county's Solid Waste Department. "We don't want to prematurely recommend and do something that would cause more harm than good."
County government now plays almost no role in trash collection in the unincorporated areas. Although an ordinance requires homeowners to pay for garbage pickup, it is not rigidly enforced.
Homeowners responsible enough to arrange for trash pickup can choose from among a half dozen private companies doing business in Pinellas County. Those companies, which carry the trash to the county's solid waste facility in St. Petersburg, provide a wide range of services.
Some collect garbage once a week, others twice a week. Some pick up recyclable materials, while others do not. Some accept yard trash, like leaves and branches, while others refuse. Some will take discarded furniture, and others will not.
"You get a situation in many neighborhoods where you have multiple companies picking up trash on the same street on the same day or on different days," Smith said. "That tears up the roads. If they come at 6 o'clock in the morning, you get woken up every morning."
In some neighborhoods, at least one house has trash piled in front of it each morning. Homeowners, frustrated when stuff gets left behind, occasionally resort to illegal dumping.
Meanwhile, the county is trying to improve the look of the unincorporated areas by mowing county rights of way more often and increasing code enforcement.
The task force will consider whether unincorporated Pinellas needs a more uniform garbage pickup service.
County commissioners could require haulers to provide all the same services. Or, as some cities and homeowners associations do, the county could resort to a franchise system, where companies have to bid to be able to haul trash in specific parts of Pinellas.
Smith, of the county Solid Waste Department, said the task force does not want to put any trash haulers out of business. But the discussion has some smaller companies such as County Recycling and Solar Sanitation concerned that they could be squeezed out of the market by large corporations such as BFI and Waste Management.
"When we heard this, we kind of said, "Whoa.' Naturally, anybody in business doesn't want anything to happen to hurt their business," said James Roberto, co-owner of County Recycling, who said haulers plan to start attending task force meetings. "As it gains momentum, I'm sure more people will get involved. Who knows what could happen?"
Family-owned Solar Sanitation, which serves the Palm Harbor and East Lake areas, likes the open competition that exists now among Pinellas trash haulers, said Nick DiCeglie, who owns the business with his mother, Mitch.
"As far as the customer, everybody has the right to pick how they spend their money. When I go buy something, I want to have a choice," he said. "This is working great for us."
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.