TAMPA — For residents of unincorporated Hillsborough County, it's about to get a bit easier to do your part to save the planet.
Like the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County will introduce single-bin, automated household recycling pickup service later this year. The plan is part of the county's larger conversion to new household waste collection, which begins Oct. 1.
Officials believe the new program will turn people who don't separate their garbage now into recyclers and encourage those already environmentally minded to do more. That keeps less waste from the county's landfill or garbage incinerator.
"The beautiful thing for our residents is it makes it simpler for them," said Mitch Kessler, president of Kessler Consulting, a firm that has worked with the county to help with the transition. "Data shows when you make it simple for people, more will participate."
What's more, Hillsborough County will join the growing ranks of governments that will actually make some money from the increasingly lucrative recycling stream.
Some time before the rollout, county households will receive two new lidded garbage cans, one for household waste, the other for recyclable materials. County officials must still determine what size containers they will purchase. The city of Tampa is issuing 95-gallon recycling containers to its residents.
Select city neighborhoods — chosen because their residents already recycle at a high rate — recently began receiving their cans under a phased-in rollout expected to take 18 months. Tonya Brickhouse, the city's director of solid waste and environmental program management, said residents are enthusiastic about the change.
She projects that the city will increase its 33 percent recycling rate by about 50 percent.
"There's a lot of positive energy going on," Brickhouse said.
In the county, the bins will replace the two open green and blue tubs households are typically issued so that they can separate bottles and cans from paper products. After Oct. 1, all recyclables will go in one can, what the industry calls single-stream recycling, eliminating any hassle associated with separating garbage.
"People will no longer be frustrated by having to separate glass, bottle, plastic, paper," said John Lyons, director of public utilities for the county.
At the same time, the county will begin accepting a broader array of recyclable materials.
Currently, for instance, the county only accepts plastics with the recyclable code 1 or 2 on the bottom, which takes in many household items, from juice and milk containers to shampoo and detergents. When the new program starts, most plastics — from those used for medicine bottles, cooking oil and ketchup, for example — will be accepted, provided they have been cleaned.
Three private haulers will each serve defined geographic districts of the county for residential pickup. After Oct. 1, they will begin using trucks with mechanical arms that lift and empty the garbage cans, one for recycling and the other for other household waste.
Those trucks will then take the recyclables to a central transfer station, then haul them by larger trucks to a sorting plant in Pinellas County.
Currently, the county collects about 30,000 tons in recyclable materials. Its current three haulers each collect the recyclables, sort them and sell them to companies that turn paper to tissue and cereal boxes or plastics into things such as flower pots or sleeping bags.
When the new contracts kick in, recyclables will all end up with one company, Waste Services of Florida. The county has agreed to pay the company roughly $50 for each ton it collects.
The county will then get a large cut of what Waste Services is able to sell the materials for above the $50.
Even if the county collects no more recyclables than it does now, Lyons told commissioners recently that the county stands to make about $1 million annually from the sale of those materials. Lyons said that, in actuality, he expects recycling to increase by anywhere from 20 to 50 percent, earning the county more.
"I didn't want to quote a number higher than that in case, lo and behold, it comes in lower," Lyons said. "It's definitely a new revenue stream that we've never seen before."
That's because the county doesn't make any money from recyclables now.
Kessler, the trash consultant, said more of his clients around the state and nation have been pursuing similar contracts during the past decade. Hillsborough County had not sought new garbage hauling contracts in 17 years.
He predicts the county will see at least a 20 percent increase in recycling as a result of the change.
"I'm willing to say that the residential curbside number will increase," he said. "That's what we've seen when someone has gone to single-stream automated service. It's common sense."
Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.