Last January, Cliff Bertucci decided to start a collection.
Plastic bottles. Just "an experimental type thing," he says.
Not just any bottles. The bottles that liquid laundry detergent, bleach, and assorted fabric softeners and brighteners come in.
Jugs so big you have to work out to pick them up. Small bottles proclaiming "3x Concentrated." If it was plastic, and customers left it behind at his Wash-N-Go Laundromat on Haines Road, he tossed it into a bin behind his business. The bin, which originally held about half a cord of firewood, consisted of a circle of wire fencing about 5 feet high attached to a 4- by 4-foot shipping pallet.
One bin grew to two. Two, to three. And they kept growing. At the end of a year, he was surprised by what he had accumulated.
"This is a lot of plastic," he says.
Nine bins sit in two orderly rows, mounds of bottles creating a hilly polyethylene topography. Orange bottles. Blue bottles. Yellow, red and green bottles. About 720 cubic feet of molded petroleum derivative.
Bertucci doesn't know how many bottles are in his collection. But he knows this. His is a small facility — only 17 washers and 14 dryers, about half the size of a typical laundry. There are probably 10 similar businesses within a mile, he figures. The math is left unfinished, but the conclusion obvious.
Bertucci doesn't call himself a "tree hugger," although he has been a member of the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society. His sentiments run along a parallel track, however. He began selling organic pest control down the street at his other business, Gulf Coast Garden Center, 10 years ago.
For some time, he has been recycling the large black pots that trees and large plants are sold in.
He lives in Pinellas Park, where the city claims recyclable castoffs once a week at curbs.
Bertucci's glad of that and critical of the city of St. Petersburg for its lack of a program.
Next up for Bertucci: arrange the bins in front of the laundry and take a picture. He'll send the photograph and a writeup to an industry trade magazine.
Bertucci hopes his experiment will initiate a conversation among coin laundry owners. "If every industry would pick out one thing to recycle," he says, "we'd all be better off."
The collection is kaput: the yearlong experiment is over. Now, he'll recycle bottles as the designated garbage can inside, by the water cooler, is filled.
And he has to find someone to pick up nine pallets of plastic.