BY Piper Castillo
LARGO — The head of lettuce dangled in the plastic bag as Sam Davis chased the white truck down the street on his bike.
He held the bag out to the maintenance worker.
"Why didn't you take my stuff?'' Davis asked.
"We're not collecting garbage today, just recyclables, and that lettuce doesn't make it,'' explained John Poirier, assistant foreman of the maintenance department of Palm Hill Country Club, a Largo mobile home park.
"I need more instruction. I'm slow,'' Davis joked.
Davis is one of about 1,500 Palm Hill residents getting used to the park's new recycling program, which began Thursday.
Although Largo has a 21-year-old recycling program in which city recycling trucks pick up items on a regular basis from community bins, the Palm Hill board of directors felt the program was too limited. They wanted to increase recycling in the park further, said Rick Gregorio, head of Palm Hill's environmental committee.
"We have a lot of snowbirds who have wanted this for some time. Up North, recycling is mandatory in most areas, and we wanted to encourage the residents to do more here,'' Gregorio said.
Until now, residents received curbside general garbage pickup twice a week. The park maintenance crew would load the trash into large bins for Largo's solid-waste department to empty. Those who wanted to recycle had to trek to the northeastern corner of the 165-acre property to toss the items into city collection bins that accepted a limited number of items, including paper, plastic and aluminum cans.
Things have changed. Palm Hill residents now get only one general garbage pickup from the city per week. The second pickup day is dedicated to curbside recycling. The maintenance crew picks up the recyclables, which are then sorted by Recycling Services of Florida, a firm hired by the park's board of directors.
"Residents are giving up a day of general garbage pickup, but they're still getting twice-a-week pickup. They're realizing how much becomes recyclable trash,'' Gregorio said. "And the system makes it easy for residents to recycle because it is curbside."
The new program also includes more items, including pizza boxes, waxed paper, juice cartons, Styrofoam and plastic containers, and glass.
"We appreciate what Largo does, and we understand they can't do it all, but we wanted to be able to collect more types of recyclables from residents. For example, glass is a big part of this, and Largo doesn't collect glass,'' Gregorio said.
Marissa Segundo, Largo's recycling coordinator, thinks Palm Hill Country Club is the only mobile home park in the area that has undertaken such a project. She understands the decision to start a larger program.
"We're always happy to see more waste being diverted from the landfill," she said. "I know the individuals there are very serious about that.''
Why doesn't the city recycle popular items like glass?
"We stopped collecting glass in 2008. We realized glass is only 5 to 8 percent of the municipal solid-waste stream,'' Segundo said, "whereas we were able to add mixed paper pickup at that time, which incorporates 25 percent of the waste stream."
Palm Hill Country Club has invested $20,000 in the project, said Lynn Wyszynski, community manager for Palm Hill Country Club. A larger recycling station has been created in the park that can handle the new pair of electric compactors rented from Recycling Services of Florida, Gregorio said.
"The reason we selected Recycling Services of Florida is because they do it all. It's called dual-stream recycling,'' he said. "Residents don't have to separate the material, other than putting the paper products in one bag and all the other recyclables in the other. After our maintenance crew picks up the bags and separates the stuff into the two compactors, they do the rest for us.''
Last week 600 bags of recyclables were collected from Palm Hill's 1,096 homes.
"I believe that is the most recycling ever done at Palm Hill. So now we are seeing our goal, recycling more, and eventually, we could even see a profit on what we recycle, but that is by no means why we are doing this,'' said Gregorio, who has owned a mobile home at Palm Hill Country Club since 1999 and has lived in the park with his wife, Ellie, since 2004.
"We are doing this because when you look at the main dump site in Pinellas County and see that it could very well be the highest point around, you realize you have to do something.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at email@example.com.