BROOKSVILLE — This small city is getting some help from a retail giant as it prepares to kick off its first curbside recycling program.
Brooksville officials announced Wednesday that Wal-Mart is donating thousands of plastic bags for a three-times-a-month curbside recycling effort that will begin Sept. 2.
"When we approached Wal-Mart about the opportunity to partner, they didn't just say yes, they enthusiastically jumped at the opportunity," Mayor Joe Bernardini said during a news conference at City Hall on Wednesday. "We know that even the most meager efforts will have a resounding positive effect on the environment, and over the long term, taxpayers will also reap the benefit because the more we recycle, the less waste is going into the landfill."
As he talked, Bernardini stood under a banner offering some trash trivia. For those who are counting, it can take 500 years for a plastic bottle to biodegrade. Same for an aluminum can.
The clear blue bags will be distributed by the city to residents who want to take part in the voluntary program. City sanitation workers will pick up the bags full of recyclables and take them to the county recycling center at the county's Northwest landfill facility. The landfill is rapidly approaching capacity, and construction has started on a new section.
The schedule for Brooksville's program: plastic, aluminum and tin on the first Wednesday of the month; newspapers, magazines, paper bags and phone books on the second Wednesday; and cardboard on the third.
The bags also will be recycled, officials said.
Wal-Mart's contribution is crucial because the cost of recycling bins or bags could have run as high as $400,000, City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha said.
In this kind of budget year, "that was prohibitive," Norman-Vacha said.
The city is incorporating the recycling into its regular pickup schedule for bulk and yard waste, so there should be little to no cost unless the program is popular enough to warrant more routes, she said.
"That would be great if everyone decides to recycle and we need an extra route in there," Norman-Vacha said.
Two of Wal-Mart's goals are to be good environmental stewards and help the communities where it does business, said Toby Gray, general manager of the company's 1.5-million-square-foot distribution center on Kettering Road, about 10 miles east of the city limits.
"This opportunity was a perfect marriage of those two things that are important to us as a company," Gray said.
The retailer can get the bags in bulk from one of its current vendors at a fraction of what the city would have paid, he said.
Gray said he believes it's the first time the retailer has helped a city with a curbside recycling effort.
Criticized for years for its environmental record, Wal-Mart has trumpeted its efforts to transform itself into a more green-friendly operation. Both the company's reputation and its bottom line have benefited.
The Kettering Road facility can generate as much as 4 tons of cardboard each day, Gray said. Wal-Mart makes money by selling the material, and the profit likely will go to pay for Brooksville's plastic bags, he said.
Brooksville residents will join some 38,000 households in two Spring Hill ZIP codes who already have curbside recycling — though they have to pay for it. Those county residents are billed a mandatory $1.15 per month for the service, which is provided by the county through a vendor.
The county is considering ways to expand curbside recycling to other areas, said Scott Harper, solid waste services manger. Contracts with its three waste hauling vendors are up next year.
"Now is the time to think of what could benefit the whole county," Harper said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.