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County shop offers free paint, chemicals, old electronics

ST. PETERSBURG

Jeffrey Shorter was hoping to score paint in a pale shade of green. But at this price, he was willing to compromise.

He walked away from the county's new household chemical "swap shop" with two 4½-gallon containers of metallic brown and off-white paint and gallon- and quart-sized jugs of various whites and dark greens.

Mixing these 15 gallons of latex paint would pretty much bring him the color of mud, he was told. But because the paint was free, Shorter figured he could come back for more and tinker.

The paint will be used on the facade of Second Chance Life Skills, a nonprofit agency that works with young people in southern St. Petersburg.

"We're going to try to create one neutral color," said Shorter, program director of the agency. "Funds are not out there right now, so we have to get creative."

Shorter also picked up a 100-ounce jug of carwash concentrate, which he said the agency could use for its next fundraiser.

Paint and other household chemicals are free for the taking at the county's new Household Electronics and Chemical Collection Center, or HEC³ for short.

The swap shop is in a small room with metal shelves that is part of the new $3.2 million facility next to the county landfill. Residents can drive up and drop off all manner of household chemicals and electronics. Workers take usable items to the swap shop.

Joe Fernandez, who runs the facility, said it isn't only the needy who come by for free stuff. Mostly it's families trying to stretch dollars while maintaining their homes. But he also sees people pulling up in luxury vehicles.

"You would think this would be beneath them, but it's not," Fernandez said. "A lot of people are in hard times."

Not that the county minds. It's cheaper to give away noxious chemicals than it is to recycle them. Fernandez said the recycling center, which pays outside companies to recycle hazardous waste, had operating costs of $700,000 last year. He said it also saved $88,500 by giving away 161,376 pounds of paint, pesticides, poisons, automotive fluids, pool supplies and other chemicals.

The old recycling center was at the same address, but was a collection of metal cabinets under a canopy. The new building looks like a big-box store, with a sleek drive-in bay where workers help carry off your big-screen TV.

Inside the swap shop, there is a glass cabinet filled with relics of garages past. A 1960s CB radio, with no rust or scratches on its metal and plastic casing, is a good example of the type of thing that comes into the recycling center. Morse code transmitters and outdated cans of Sunshine Piano Polish are also on display.

Greg Reed of Treasure Island comes several times a month and usually leaves with armfuls of pool supplies. On a recent day he found chlorine tablets but also scored granite cleaner, automotive wax and brake fluid.

"If it's here, you just grab it because it may not be here the next time," he said.

And of course, he noted, he could always bring it back.

Luis Perez can be reached at lperez@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2271.

fast facts

One man's trash ...

Household Electronics and Chemical and Collection Center, 2855 109th Ave. N, St. Petersburg

6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday

7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

County shop offers free paint, chemicals, old electronics 10/27/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 1:36pm]
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