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Like it or not, curbside recycling has launched in St. Pete

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Universal curbside recycling has officially begun in St. Pete. Residents in Zone 1, which includes the Old Southeast neighborhood as well as Coquina Key and Broadwater along the Tampa Bay waterfront South to Pinellas Point Drive.

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman kicked off the program in Old Southeast with a specially timed pickup in front of the home of neighborhood association president Pete Olivares.

“Universal recycling is new,” Kriseman said. “It’s a big undertaking, but it’s also a really important undertaking.”

Olivares stood with Kriseman in his front yard. He didn’t have a driveway or a garage at the front of the property. That’s because Old Southeast is one of St. Pete’s more traditional neighborhoods. 40 percent of homes in the city fall in one of these neighborhoods where trash is collected from alleyways and not the curb.

But unlike some of those traditional neighborhoods and its residents, Olivares said residents in Old Southeast are overwhelmingly welcoming of the program.

“Recycling was one of our top priorities,” Olivares said. “Long before I moved here five years ago, many of my neighbors already participated in recycling even before recycling was cool. Many had to drive several miles to drop off their recyclables.”

Olivares’s 95-gallon blue bin sat along the edge of his yard waiting to be dumped into one of the city’s seven trucks purchased solely for recycling. It sat along with a dozen others on the block where nearly every home seemed to be participating.

“I just keep the bin right over there,” Olivares said pointing to a fenced in side yard. “It’s out of sight until I roll it out.”

But not everyone living in a traditional neighborhood is as forgiving as Olivares, who recognizes the program is in its infancy. He trusts the city will work to fix the kinks.

Olivares has a fenced-in side yard where he can easily and closely store his recycling bin. Not every resident in neighborhoods like Old Southeast are so lucky, though. Some have no access to a back or side yard from the front of their homes and of those many have nowhere to discreetly store the bins on non-pickup days.

“We want to give the program a chance to be successful,” Kriseman said, noting that the city currently has “no specific timeframe on changes.”

Those possible changes would likely allow homes with alley access to eventually place their bins with the solid waste instead of going curbside. But as of right now the city says they don’t have the capacity to facilitate alley collection.

The city ordered seven trucks for the recycling program and they are, according to the city, too large to safely navigate alleys. That even includes the one smaller truck ordered to accommodate neighborhoods with narrow roads and street parking – mainly the same neighborhoods that would benefit from curbside pickup.

“St. Petersburg is truly a city of neighborhoods and each neighborhood is unique,” Kriseman said. “What works for one neighborhood or one home may not work for everyone or uniformity may make the most sense.”

Another unintended consequence facing the city as it rolls out recycling concerns some homeowners and residents being overbilled. The city determined where to deliver recycling bins based on where water meters were located.

Olivares had two bins on his front curb. Beginning in August he will pay the $2.95 monthly fee for recycling. His tenant in a garage apartment behind his home will also pay for the second container.

But here’s the thing – if Oliveras and his tenant determine they only need one bin between the two of them, both still have to pay the fee regardless of whether or not they return one.

Worse, for homeowners who use attached properties as personal space for things like studio space or an office – or who may have attached former apartments to their own homes to make them bigger – will still have to pay twice.

Such is the case in many homes in Old Southeast as well as Historic Kenwood and even Historic Old Northeast.

“We recognize some of these garage apartments may not be good candidates for curbside recycling participation,” said St. Pete Public Works administrator Mike Connors. “We’re going to evaluate that as we go on.”

There are also concerns about the way the containers look. Blue bins were dropped at all city residences – even those vacant. That means in many places bins are still sitting out exactly where they were dropped off. Take a stroll down many major city streets and there are still blue bins dotting the curb even outside of pickup areas.

The city is asking residents to place their bins for pickup no earlier than 7 p.m. the day prior to collection day. They’re also asking that the bins be removed from the curbside to a discreet location by 7 p.m. the day of collection.

Ideally this means only 48 hours each month where bins should be clogging roadways and contributing to what some see as an eyesore. But, the city is not yet ready to enforce that as a rule.

“We want to get a couple collection cycles under our belt before we make any advancements toward regulating the placement of the containers,” Connors said.

Kriseman’s staff arranged for a recycling truck to pick up recycling from Olivares’ home just as the morning’s press release was concluding.

The truck rolled up the street almost unnoticed until Kriseman pointed it out. The new trucks run on compressed natural gas and are substantially quieter than the traditional solid waste trucks.

As it approached the bin another possible glitch seemed to appear. A second employee had to leave the truck to reposition the bin in order to be picked up. The bin had been placed literally on the curb – not on the street. The employee moved it onto the street and then it was successfully tipped into the truck by he automated side arm.

Participation down the 19 Avenue South block was nearly 100 percent. Nearly all of the bins placed outside were on curbs – not on the street. Connors told media that most trucks will be operated by just a driver, ignoring a quip from a member of the media that those drivers were probabl going to get some good exercise.

“If someone needs to get of of their truck in order to pick it up, than that’s what will occur,” Kriseman said.

Each bin has a sticker located on it identifying when it will be picked up. Residents in zone A1 with gray stickers were picked up today. Residents in zone A3, red stickers, will be picked up Tuesday.

People with purple stickers in zone A5 will have recycling picked up on Thursday while those with a pink, A7 sticker will put bins by the curb on Friday.

For those who may have missed pickup, the city is offering a redo for at least the first time around. Those who call 727-893-7838 by 4 p.m. Monday can still have their bins dumped today. If residents call for missed pickup after 4 p.m. the bins will be collected Wednesday.

The same assistance will be offered to residents in other zones with later pickups.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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