TAMPA — Banana peels, junk mail, food wrappers, empty bottles, worn shoes. We toss them in cans under our desks or next to kitchen sinks and quite often think nothing more of them. But Tampa's solid-waste department has been thinking up ways to tweak the system that disposes of your trash. Here's the latest note for your fridge: New garbage pickup days start Monday. It may take some getting used to. You've quite possibly hauled your trash to the curb the same two days a week for the past 14 years, since the city's last major route redesign. The change is the result of new routes intended to balance driver workloads and could save the city more than $600,000, said Tonja Brickhouse, a retired Air Force colonel who served at MacDill Air Force Base before becoming the city's director of solid waste in 2008. She plans to use some of that savings to expand yard waste pickup from its current 45 percent of the city to all residents. Other goals include making trash disposal more efficient and watching out for Mother Earth, an ever-growing concern. Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill last week calling for communities to recycle at least 75 percent of their solid-waste stream by 2020. The bill also created a Recycling Business Assistance Center to coordinate between state agencies and the private sector. Here in Tampa, the changes keep coming, and City Times has compiled a list of things you need to know about an important, although dirty, aspect of city life: trash pickup.
We're talking trash
Routes: New routes will reduce emissions and save fuel by concentrating trucks in half the city each day. For years, trash and recyclable routes have stretched from one end of the city's 72 square miles to the other, Brickhouse said. The new routes are contained to specific areas, saving $600,000 in fuel, equipment and personnel. The city also expects to scrimp about $500,000 annually and emit 140,500 pounds less carbon dioxide by eliminating makeup dates after holidays, except Thanksgiving and Christmas, which generate masses of garbage. On seven other holidays, residents will have to wait until their next scheduled trash pickup.
Bins: Five years ago, the city started using trucks with automated arms to collect solid waste in some areas, reducing the number of employees, time and cost. Officials planned to bring the service to 85 percent of the city and dispensed 95-gallon bins that fit with the automated arm. The remaining homes are on back alleys where the automated trucks can't maneuver and employees continue to collect trash manually.
The last neighborhood to get the bins was Riverside Heights. But not everyone was excited when the bins arrived last month. Timothy Frendo and his girlfriend generate about four bags of trash a month. For him, it's not worth carting that mammoth bin to the curb.
Frendo thinks the oversized bins discourage people from recycling because they feel the need to fill up the bins, even if it means putting recyclables inside.
For others, the blue trash bins have made life a little easier. Mayor Pam Iorio says her friend Jack Espinosa jokes that they are her greatest achievement.
"You see, taking out the trash was always considered a hardship in his family, and his wife took great pleasure in assigning this duty to him," Iorio said in an e-mail to City Times. "Now, with the blue cart — with wheels, he considers it a pleasure! So forget transit, or the waterfront park — for him it's all about the garbage cart."
Changes: Did I just see a guy dump my recyclables into a trash truck?
Yes, starting in 2008, more and more trash trucks have been converted to multiuse trucks, picking up trash as well as 700 tons of recyclables a month in a process called "single stream" or comingled. Your old cans and bottles are transferred to Waste Management Recycle America on N 53rd Street. The materials are partly sorted there and eventually shipped all over the world for their next life. But many people still don't know what's going on, so here's what all this means to you:
• No need to separate paper from plastics or cans.
• Toss in all plastics, that's right, even the No. 5. Just not plastic foam.
• Add junk mail and glossy magazines.
• Take off lids from plastic bottles. When they heat up, lids can become projectiles.
Apartment recycling: The city has applied for a grant to expand recycling in multifamily units, which are often not designed with space for recycling bins and require the homeowners association to pay for commercial pickup. Tampa ranked sixth among applicants and is waiting to find out if the city will get grant money.
How do we rate? The new recycling law classifies waste burned as recycled, unlike before. Under these guidelines, Tampa's recycling rate — including the waste burned at McKay Bay — has gone from 8.6 percent in 2009 to 91.8 percent.
"It gives a more accurate picture of recycling," said Brickhouse. "The fact is that we haven't put all that waste into the waste stream. In essence, we've converted it to renewable energy. To have that not included was a huge omission."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3431.