Universal curbside recycling clears final hurdle in St. Pete

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It’s official. Universal curbside recycling is coming to St. Petersburg. St. Pete City Council members unanimously approved three measures that pave the way for the service to begin soon. St. Pete is currently the last major Florida city not to offer curbside recycling.

The proposed cost to all utility ratepayers is $2.95 per billing cycle. That’s lower than the current $3.75 fee charged to customers who choose to pay for optional recycling service. The current service provides two open plastic bins that are small and subject to the elements when put out on pick-up day. The new service will provide customers with a larger bin that rolls and has a lid.

The vote authorizes Mayor Rick Kriseman or his staff to begin preparation for the implementation of the program. It also authorizes the purchase of more than $2 million worth of specialized trucks to pick up the new recycling bins when they hit the streets and approves the purchase of more than $4 million in roll carts.

During public comment, 
five residents spoke in favor of the program and another ten added their names to the official meeting record in support of universal curbside recycling.

Opponents, though they have quieted down since it became clear both council and the mayor supported universal curbside recycling, argued the service was forcing a fee onto ratepayers who may not be interested in recycling. However supporters point out that as the program rises in popularity more solid waste will shift from the black garbage bins lining streets two-days a week to the recycling bins. That will reduce solid waste tonnage and tipping fees the city pays and increase tonnage on recycling. Both of those effects will continue to drive cost down.

The group also points out the more tonnage recycled the more money the city gets back for the program. That could further reduce costs as the program gains popularity. Increased recycling would also lead to less regular trash collection. The city currently pays a $37.50 per ton tipping fee for trash. A reduction in those fees could also lead to a reduction in costs for customers.

“We can help people recycle better,” People’s Trash supporter and Sierra Club activist Tim Martin said. “You can’t recycle greasy pizza boxes. We can help people learn these differences. If we can get people to recycle often and smart it will benefit us all by bringing down the cost.”

Supporters heralded the city’s decision to in-source recycling pick-up.

“I believe that this is going to be a great benefit for repurposing, recycling and creating jobs — particularly in midtown,” said south St. Pete resident and activist Winnie Foster.

Though the measure received wide support during the council meeting, there were some supporters who called on the city to continue moving forward.

“I hope you’ll keep in mind that it would be wonderful to expand this to multi-family and businesses in the future,” Frank Wells said. The current plan only includes single-family residences.

The plan makes smaller households, ones with only one or two occupants, eligible for once-a-week pickup instead of twice-a-week.

Council also approved a motion to defer a $350,000 marketing expenditure to the Business, Finance and Taxation Committee.

It’s not clear yet when the mayor and staff will have a plan ready for implementation.

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.