ST. PETERSBURG — In an effort to salvage St. Petersburg's struggling curbside recycling program, City Council members today will ponder ways to boost participation, which has lagged far behind expectations.
Among the groups they might want to persuade to use the service: themselves.
Even though it was the eight-member board that voted in 2010 to award the curbside recycling program to Waste Services of Florida Inc., a majority as of Wednesday had yet to sign up for the $2.75-a-month service.
Chairwoman Leslie Curran, Jeff Danner, Bill Dudley and Karl Nurse said they don't currently subscribe to the once-a-week pickup. Wengay Newton didn't when first asked Wednesday morning. But he called back hours later to report that he signed up and will get the service within 10 days.
Three who did vote for the service — Jim Kennedy, Steve Kornell and former council member Herb Polson — currently subscribe. They all said part of the reason they signed-up was to set an example.
"If we're going to espouse something as leaders in the community, we should take advantage of the service," Polson said. "I can't advocate for something and then not make a financial sacrifice, a small one at that, to support it. I have to be a role model because I publicized it."
Mayor Bill Foster couldn't be reached, but a local manager of WSI, Ian Boyle, said Foster was one of the first to sign up for the service.
Boyle recently alerted city officials that the hauler has fallen short of its goal of getting 31 percent of St. Pete's 76,290 single-family homes, or 24,000, to sign up for the program. Total subscriptions were about 7,249 by December, or 9.5 percent.
At that rate, Boyle said, the company isn't making a profit and won't renew its contract when it expires in October, jeopardizing the program.
The shortfall in subscriptions has puzzled city officials and environmental leaders who had pushed for the program for years. After an initial surge in subscriptions in the first few months, they believed its success was certain.
But Boyle said the subscriptions have since stalled. He's asking the city to better promote the program. During today's 3 p.m. meeting, council members will vote to expand the program by giving some customers a discount on garbage pickup.
If the plan is approved, single-family homes occupied by two people on lots of 8,500 square feet or less will qualify for once-a-week trash pickup. Those who choose to switch from two-day pickup — and agree to sign up for recycling — will save $4.25 off their total monthly bill, said public works administrator Mike Connors.
Other remedies, such as more publicity, will be considered.
But how tough will it be to enlist greater community participation if the board members who approved the program aren't using it themselves?
Dudley said he supports it, but doesn't think he needs to use it.
"They're several thousand short of what they need, so it's not me obviously," Dudley said.
While he said he feels bad that WSI has fallen short of projections, he said he already drops off newspapers at St. Raphael's Catholic Church in his Snell Isle neighborhood.
"It's my small contribution to the church," Dudley said. "There were a lot of people who said they wanted recycling, so I thought there would be no problem. Why should I change? I've been doing this for 30 years. It is a free enterprise system."
Nurse said he subscribes to a competing curbside recycling service — Waste Pro of Florida, Inc. — that costs $16 more a year than WSI's. He had been getting the service for several years. He had planned to switch, but hadn't gotten around to it.
"Inertia," Nurse said. "Just plain inertia on my part."
Danner said he doesn't have enough to recycle to warrant the cost of signing up. He said he doesn't subscribe to newspapers. He couldn't recall what magazines, if any, his wife gets. He doesn't use aluminum cans or glass bottles, he said.
Does he plan to sign up in the future?
"I guess it wouldn't hurt," Danner said. "I just haven't given it much thought because there hasn't been a lot of newspapers or bottles laying around. I'll take another look at my refuse and see how much of it can be reused."
Like Dudley, Newton said he lugs his recyclables to a church — First Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church — and said he will continue to do so because it helps raise money for the organization. But he did later sign up for the program. "I would hate curbside to go away for the people who do use it," Newton said. "So hopefully this helps."
Curran was sidelined from a bike accident last year, so she didn't vote when the council approved the WSI contract. She did vote, however, in April 2010 when a council committee gave Mayor Bill Foster the go-ahead on a curbside program.
She said she still drops off her materials at one of the city's 18 drop-off centers.
Connors said 180 other groups, such as churches and nonprofits, recycle material, all of which compete with the curbside program. The city still supports these alternatives, however, because it produces money for nonprofits and offers convenience for residents.
And yes, Connors subscribes.
"I wanted to demonstrate to my constituency that if I signed up, hopefully they would to," he said.
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or [email protected]