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Top St. Pete headlines in 2015: No. 5 – Curbside recycling

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As 2015 winds down we took a look back at the year’s news in St. Petersburg and came up with a list of the top 10 most newsworthy happenings. Whether the news evoked outrage in a community, excitement or even heartbreak, these are the top headlines of 2015.

No. 5: Curbside recycling

When word first got out that universal curbside recycling was coming to St. Peteresburg, many residents were pleased. After all, St. Pete was the last major Florida city to get on board.

Things got messy, though, when details started to emerge.

The $2.95 per address universal curbside recycling program started in July to a clamor of irritability. In the weeks leading up to the launch, as residents saw giant blue bins landing in their front yards, people learned recycling would only be picked up curbside.

That meant 40 percent of the city’s households were left in a precarious situation. Those residences have trash collected from the curb and their front yards are not often conducive to storing or moving large bins.

The city was bombarded with letters from residents in traditional neighborhoods such as Old Northeast and Kenwood. Leaders of those neighborhoods demanded recycling be picked up the same way trash was – in the alley.

The city initially refused, saying the nine trucks purchased for the program were too big to navigate alleys, and that overhanging branches and power lines could pose safety hazards. They vowed to find a solution.

Come Jan. 25, 2016, that solution will arrive. The city eventually purchased four additional smaller trucks that can fit down alleys and will begin collecting recycling right next to trash bins – just as residents requested.

The alley issue wasn’t the only one. Solid waste collection is dirty business, but this summer recycling seemed even dirtier.

Residents complained about just about everything. The bins were too big. Too blue. Too bright. Too expensive. They came too soon. They got dropped off at vacant homes and ugly up the street.

And of course there were those who argued the program was a mandatory tax on residents. The $2.95 per month fee for the program is assessed every utility user regardless of whether or not they participate.

The city repeatedly reminded critics they didn’t have to recycle if they didn’t want. They could even have the city come and take away the monstrous blue bin. But they were still going to pay for it.

Since the program rolled out, things have calmed down. Residents in traditional neighborhoods are happily awaiting alley collection. The mumbles from anti-government activists has quieted. The blue bins seem to have disappeared all but on collection day.

And the program has turned out to be quite the success. According to the city participation is beyond what they originally expected and contamination rates are lower than expected. The city plans to look at numbers again after alley collection begins to see how that impacts participation and if contamination increases.

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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