TAMPA — You probably have a good idea of what to expect when your electric bill comes. Same with gas and water: Use more, pay more.
Not so with garbage.
In Tampa, all households are charged the same — $25.25 per month — regardless of how much trash each generates.
But that may change.
As administrators work to crimp budgets and meet state recycling goals, they're considering a plan that treats trash service like other utilities.
It's called "Pay-As-You-Throw" — a system used in a quarter of communities nationwide. People would be charged based on the size of bin they choose to use for garbage pickup.
"We're getting things in place," said solid waste director Tonja Brickhouse, we're "working toward it."
Brickhouse has no specific timetable to start the service, which would require City Council approval. But the gist, she says, is this: "If you or I can control how much we pay, we're likely to recycle more and generate less."
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Here's how the system would work:
Customers would choose among three bin sizes: 35, 65, or 95 gallons. The charge per container has yet to be set.
Most households have a 95-gallon bin now.
Trash collection would operate much the same as it does now with automated trucks lifting the bins and dumping their contents. All garbage would have to fit into the bin.
The city is looking into whether to replace the current blue recycling bins with varying sized containers that can be dumped with automated equipment as well. But that decision will come later.
In other areas that use the system, opponents have argued that pay-as-you-throw leads to illegal dumping, homeowners compacting too much trash into a single can or burning garbage. But Environmental Protection Agency officials say these problems are typically smaller than anticipated and can be curbed by aggressive enforcement.
Florida's goal is to recycle 75 percent of all generated waste by 2020. Currently, statewide recycling rates hover from 25 to 30 percent, said Ron Henricks, who oversees waste reduction for the state Department of Environmental Protection. The most recent recycling rate for Hillsborough is 38 percent.
"Pay-as-you-throw is the single best tool to increase residential recycling," he says.
Communities across Florida are looking at the method, he said. But less than 1 percent currently use it, including the cities of Gainesville, Plantation and Cedar Key, and Alachua and Sarasota counties.
It started in the late 1980s on the nation's west coast and in the northwest as a tool to conserve landfill space. Now, people in more than 7,000 communities use a system that charges by garbage bag, cart size or weight, Henricks said.
Some states, including Minnesota, Oregon and Washington, mandate the practice.
"If Tampa goes through with it, it'll be by far the largest program in Florida," Henricks said.
Several years ago, Hillsborough County researched the program through a state grant. It wanted to do a pilot in a small neighborhood, but couldn't persuade one to make the temporary change. The option is not currently being considered, said Michelle Van Dyke, spokeswoman for Hillsborough County's public utilities department.
In 1994, Gainesville teamed with Alachua County on pay-as-you-throw. Within two years, the county saw an 18 percent reduction in garbage collection and a 25 percent increase in recycling.
"It was Florida's first volume-based cart system," said Karen Deeter, who retired last year from the Alachua County Division of Waste Management.
Deeter helped set up the system and said the impetus came from citizens who complained that a standard price was not fair for those who recycled. At some point, a citizen advisory committee researched pay-as-you-throw and recommended approval to government officials.
Gainesville residents choose from four cart sizes: 18 to 96 gallons. Costs range from $15.25 to $30.50 per month.
Today, while Florida averages a little less than 30 percent of garbage recycled, Alachua County registers at 40 percent.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.