Curbside recycling missing in mayor's green initiative

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Baker has begun to unveil a sweeping new green initiative that would affect everything from the lightbulbs at City Hall to the fuel police officers put in their squad cars.

But the plan, which city officials announced this month, does not address St. Petersburg's lack of curbside recycling.

And city officials went as far as saying that Baker is still so dead set against implementing such a program, he ordered his staff to lobby against a countywide recycling effort being discussed by the Pinellas County Commission.

The mayor's tough stance against curbside recycling — which he considers neither cost nor environmentally effective — represents yet another contradiction in the city's ongoing green efforts.

St. Petersburg, recognized as the first "Green City" in Florida by the state mostly because of policies implemented by Baker, is also the subject of ridicule by local environmentalists who argue the mayor's opposition to curbside recycling makes no sense.

Nearly two dozen Pinellas communities enjoy curbside recycling.

Most recently, county officials announced they were considering a $10-million curbside recycling plan that would potentially collect household waste from every home in Pinellas.

"People want it," said Cathy Harrelson of the Suncoast Sierra Club.

"That is not going to go away."

Baker's latest green initiative demands that new city facilities and renovations meet the minimum federal Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards.

He also called for the city to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles and to use ethanol and biodiesel fuels when possible.

Baker could not be reached for comment Friday, but Mike Connors, a member of the mayor's cabinet who oversees internal services, said the city has already taken many steps to reduce City Hall's carbon footprint.

The city owns 12 hybrid vehicles. Solar panels power overheard lights at the recently built Albert Whitted Park and the city is considering adding more panels at City Hall and the Municipal Services building on Central Avenue, Connors said.

When adopting green policies, Baker has two concerns, Connors said.

"Does it makes fiscal sense and does it make environmental sense?" he said.

Curbside recycling does neither, said Connors, adding he plans to pass that message on to county commissioners in a June meeting.

Sending a fleet of trucks around the city to pick up plastic bottles and newspapers would cost the city money and increase pollution, Connors said.

But County Commissioner Ken Welch said he is as determined as ever to bring curbside recycling to St. Petersburg.

"Environmentally," he said, "it's the responsible thing to do."

Cristina Silva can be reached at csilva@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8846.

>>FAST FACTS

The city's new green initiative includes:

•A new carbon scoreboard on the city's Web site detailing the city's financial and emission reductions.

•All new leasing agreements for city-owned office space has to meet Energy Star building standards.

•New city buildings or renovations must meet the U.S. Green Building Council's minimum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard.

•The city will explore the use of solar powered energy.

•Purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles and use ethanol and biodiesel fuels.

•Install compact fluorescent lights in all city buildings.

•Convert to more energy efficient street lighting and traffic signal systems.

•Use city Web site to educate residents about recycling, water conservation, alternative energy and mass transit.

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Curbside recycling missing in mayor's green initiative 05/24/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 29, 2008 2:56pm]

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