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If Richmond and Tampa can offer alley pick-up for recycling, why can’t St. Pete?

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

“If you have your trash collected in the alley, that’s where your recycling will be collected. If you still have your trash collected curbside, then that’s where your recycling will be collected…”

Sounds simple and self-explanatory.

This is what was said by Sharon North of the Public Works Department of Richmond, Va. – a city of 214,000, close in size to St. Petersburg, FL.

Like our city, Richmond is also in the process of rolling out a brand new citywide recycling program. Unlike our city, Richmond is offering alleyway pickup, in addition to street side, to best meet the varying needs of its city’s residents.

With 40 percent of St. Pete residents living in traditional neighborhoods – where garbage is normally picked up in alleyways behind homes – St. Pete’s recycling program, as it currently exists, poses hindrances and unintended consequences for residents. The majority of homes don’t have driveways, thus impacting residents’ ability to easily participate in the street side program (this especially impacts the elderly); the program’s new, large recycling trucks impose risks by navigating on already narrow streets; and many homes in these neighborhoods aren’t functionally designed to inconspicuously store the 95-gallon recycling bins, aiding in urban blight.

Despite the success of tested recycling program models with alleyway pick-up in cities nationwide – Richmond, Tampa, Chicago, and St. Louis, to name a few – St. Pete has rolled forward with a one-size-fits-all approach that, put simply, isn’t the right fit for all.

Using Richmond and Tampa as examples, I hope to remind people that other cities, even cities that are also rolling out first-time recycling programs, have figured out a more practical solution for all.

One main difference that has made Richmond successful: Richmond employed a smaller recycling program test phase this past January where the city learned the importance of alleyway recycling pick-up prior to rolling out the Richmond recycling program citywide.

Here, Mike Connors and the St. Pete’s Public Works Department unilaterally decided to institute its citywide recycling program without any test phase. Without having a test phase, it should come as no surprise that major adjustments to St. Pete’s recycling program are needed.

In Tampa, the city listened to concerned homeowners from the area’s historic neighborhoods, including Hyde Park and Seminole Heights, and based on resident feedback, ultimately switched to smaller, 65-gallon containers to allow for easy alleyway pickup and appease resident concerns.

In fact, Tampa advised St. Pete that neighborhoods with alley trash pick-up require smaller trucks and different equipment. Ultimately, St. Pete spent $6.1 million dollars to buy recycling trucks that do not fit in our alleys, in addition to 72,000 95-gallon blue recycling bins that many residents do not have the space to accommodate.

As a former president, and currently active member, of the Historic Kenwood Neighborhood Association (Kenwood recently joined the Old Northeast and St. Pete Downtown neighborhood associations to form a Coalition for Alley Recycling), this is by far the neighborhood problem I overwhelmingly hear about from our neighbors.

While the street side pick-up program may work for a small minority of people in our traditional neighborhoods who have driveways, the fact of the matter is that most people don’t and the program simply does not work for us. Many residents have even reported violations on SeeItClixFix, the mayor’s code enforcement reporting website, because people are storing the recycling bins in their front yards, which is a direct code violation to leave these bins up front on nonrecycling days.

Our view is that we want recycling, but we want to maximize participation in our neighborhood by expanding the program to meet the needs of all St. Pete residents and not the current one-size-fits-all solution.

It’s unfortunate, but the curbside recycling program seems to be discouraging recycling participation in our traditional neighborhoods and leaving many residents with a bad taste in their mouths in the process. We are still holding out hope that Mayor Rick Kriseman will look to other cities, such as Richmond and Tampa, and see the benefits of a more flexible program, ultimately changing ours to make it a good fit for all St. Pete residents.

Bill Heyen is a community activist and 20-plus-year resident of Historic Kenwood. Heyen served for many years on the Board of Directors for the Historic Kenwood Neighborhood Association, where he was elected and served as the president in 2011.

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