ST. PETERSBURG — It could finally happen.
The city is poised today to hire a hauler to launch voluntary curbside recycling, making St. Petersburg the last of Pinellas County's 24 municipalities to offer the program for homes.
The possibility of curbside recycling in a city that resisted it until Mayor Bill Foster took office this year was met with excitement and relief by residents who have been forced to lug cans, glass and newspapers to drop-off sites across town.
"We are so excited," Stephanie Lee said in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times. "My husband currently makes weekly trips to the drop off sites so this would be so much more convenient for us!!"
At a cost of $2.75 a month to residents who sign up for the program, Waste Services of Florida Inc. — the nation's third largest waste services company — is offering to pick up cardboard, newspaper, aluminum cans, plastic and glass bottles. Service could begin by October.
"This is great news," said Mike Connors, the city's administrator for public works. "We have an experienced company at a price we haven't seen in years."
The city decided to offer the voluntary service as a stop gap measure after Pinellas County's plan to implement curbside recycling countywide was delayed again earlier this year.
In Florida, Waste Services employs 900 employees and has 13 clients in the Tampa Bay area, including Sarasota, 90,000 homes in Hillsborough, and 20,000 homes in Pinellas locales that include Kenneth City, South Pasadena, St. Pete Beach, Indian Shores and Madeira Beach. The company beat out three other bids for the St. Petersburg job and offered by far the lowest monthly price per resident. The next lowest was $5.65 a month, the highest was $19.82.
If the City Council approves the bid, Connors said it would take about two weeks to get a contract with Waste Services signed. Then customers will be able to sign up for it by calling the company's Clearwater office at (727) 572-6800.
The city would help promote the program in residents' utility bills, on the city's website and cable TV station and by passing out company brochures at city facilities.
The company will provide customers with 18-gallon containers, which are about the size of a laundry basket.
Connors said residents won't have to worry about separating the materials. That will be done by the driver who picks them up at the curb. Connors said the driver will toss cardboard and newspapers into one part of the truck, then toss the rest of the materials into another part. The truck will then compress the materials.
Later, the materials will be separated at a Pasco County recycling plant.
Of the city's 80,000 homes, Connors said he is hoping for 20 percent participation, or about 16,000 customers.
Homeowners like Nick Dempsey are already lining up.
"This will save a chunk of my weekend time every few weeks," Dempsey said in an e-mail. "Not to mention the fact that I'm sure more of my neighbors will take to recycling now that it's so much easier."
Some residents like Scott Swift in Bartlett Park wondered why there had to be a price increase at all.
"It's exciting that we finally got this moving," Swift said. "But there should be no increase. I so badly want (the City Council) to pass this, but I'd rather they wait a month and take a look to see if there's any waste in sanitation that they can cut."
But Greg Foster, who is business development manager for Waste Pro of Florida Inc., which provides private curbside recycling for 1,500 St. Petersburg residents for $15 a month, said he doubts it can be done so cheaply. Foster bid on the job, but his bid came in at the highest.
He said he'll fight to hang on to his current customers. He says his prices are more realistic for a voluntary program. A mandatory program is cheaper because trucks have an easier time picking up the materials.
"When it's voluntary, it's hard finding the addresses that are participating," he said. "It's like hunting for Easter eggs. I think (Waste Services) prices are completely false. There's no way they can do it at that price."
Part of the company's motivation for offering such a low price also could be to get a foothold in St. Petersburg so that it will be better positioned to eventually bid on the countywide service, said Connors, the city's public works administrator.
But Bill Krimmel, the district manager for Waste Services, said his company can lowball the others because of how it separates the material. At the bottom of plastic bottles, for instance, are numbers 1, 2, 3 and so on. The lower the number, the more valuable the recycled materials. Krimmel said Waste Services can sort by numbers, increasing the amount the company can fetch on the recycled materials market. That higher profit helps subsidize the costs of collecting them.
"That's the trick," Krimmel said.
As for the $2.75 a month, he said that's guaranteed for at least two years.
"I'm a resident of St. Petersburg myself," Krimmel said. "I'm excited that the city finally will have it."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or firstname.lastname@example.org