It started out as just an idea out of school. Greg Foster, then 22, noticed that despite being labeled a green city, this burg didn't have curbside recycling. "It was a need. It was a need in St. Petersburg," Foster said. "I think actions speak louder than words." A pair of maxed out credit cards and 2,000 recycling bins from Canada later, Foster started his own curbside recycling service, St. Pete Recycling Solutions. With the help of family and friends, he collected residents' paper, plastic and other recyclables once a week for a $15 monthly charge. After being in business for more than a year, St. Pete Recycling was acquired by larger recycler Waste Pro USA Inc. And Foster couldn't be happier.
In January 2008, he took out a $20,000 business loan and used his personal savings to start his business. Foster had recently graduated in May 2007 with a finance degree from the University of South Florida
"It was a huge risk," he said. "My parents are not loaded. I don't come from a lot of money."
His business grew from 100 environmentally conscious households to a clientele of more than 1,000 residential and commercial customers including Starbucks and the Salvador Dali Museum.
"It would have been a golden business," he said. "It was growing. It was growing so fast that I wasn't able to handle it all."
Foster saw profits in his first year, he said, but he was crippled by debt and his company's growing pains. He was paying himself $250 a week and clocking in hours at Lifestyle Family Fitness.
Last September, the Pinellas County Commission threw Foster a curve ball.
The commission decided to make curbside recycling mandatory in 2010, meaning it would be near impossible for private recyclers like Foster's to compete with the free services of a county contractor.
"I felt really screwed, really afraid," he said. "I had nights where I stayed up and tried to think what I was going to do."
As luck would have it, Longwood-based Waste Pro was eyeing Pinellas County and its more than 185,000 households. Waste Pro representatives contacted Foster, and in mid May the acquisition was finalized.
"I think it was beneficial to do this acquisition to get people used to seeing us in the county," said Keith Banasiak, Waste Pro regional vice president.
Banasiak said that Foster did not have the capital or the experience to be able to bid for a county contract, but he said, Foster had developed a respected business.
With the purchase, Foster was able to pay off his debts and is now working for Waste Pro as a business development manager.
"Basically, I was in a spot that I started a good thing here and I figured if the city wasn't going to do anything that I would be in business for a few years. … Due to the situation, I had to adjust my plan," Foster said.
Foster said that the service has seen growth, but there have been people who stopped because of the impending county transition.
The implementation was pushed back from its January deadline to later next year, said Andy Fairbanks, county recycling coordinator.
The county will be divided into three areas with 40,000 customers minimum each, he said.
"Even for one service area, it's going to be a relatively large area," Fairbanks said. "To expect people to go from doing a small amount of households to several thousand homes may be a bit unreasonable."
The invitation for bids won't be publicized until the fall.
Waste Pro is considering starting a satellite operation in St. Petersburg, Banasiak said. Since the sale, it has been sending a collection truck from Bradenton.
"Since the transition, when I pull up to people's houses in the truck people smile," Foster said. "They are happy that it was a success."