DADE CITY — Pasco County commissioners on Tuesday agreed to explore a revamped recycling program that would replace blue bags with larger wheeled carts and increase pickups to once a week.
But such a program is far from final approval, and commissioners still must grapple with how much the increased service would cost customers and whether they can split the county into franchise areas without crowding out small trash haulers.
"I think we are taking a tiny baby step forward," said county recycling coordinator Jennifer Seney. Regarding franchising, commissioners are "willing to consider it," she said. "They're not shutting me down and saying absolutely not."
Franchises would give companies a stable revenue stream and allow them to invest in carts and automated trucks. But Pasco's locally owned haulers fear national companies could undercut their bids and drive them out of business.
Based on the experience from other counties, Waste Aid co-owner Bill Peterson said, "you won't see any family companies around for very long at all."
The next step: gathering feedback from the county's nine licensed garbage haulers and various homeowner associations. A franchising supporter, Seney said she hopes Pasco can design a system with several franchise areas that allow smaller companies to compete.
"The last thing we want to do, especially in this economy, is to put somebody out of business," she said.
The discussion followed a presentation in which Seney called the county's recycling program "anemic." Only about 4 percent of the county's municipal waste is recycled, which puts Pasco last among Florida's largest 20 counties.
Plus, she said, many residents are confused about where to buy blue bags, who their hauler is and what they can recycle. (Some immediate good news on that point: A recent change in how the county handles its recyclables means people can now recycle all types of plastic, not just items stamped No. 1 or 2.)
Commissioners also got a look at various recycling containers, including an 18-gallon bin roughly the size of a laundry basket and three sizes of wheeled carts.
Maura Dennison, a representative of the Rehrig Pacific container company, said bins are too small to provide much of a boost to the overall level of recyclables.
Plus, many customers find them difficult to carry to the curb.
She said the larger carts look intimidating but the wheels make them easy to maneuver. Most communities, she said, opt for the 65- or 95-gallon variety over the 35-gallon size.
Larger carts would let people divert more recyclables from the landfill. That lets haulers pick up recyclables more often while potentially picking up trash only once a week.
Can the county adopt that increased service without moving to franchises?
"In my opinion, no," said Commissioner Henry Wilson, a key supporter of expanded recycling. "I think it's going to be a viable option. … We need to make it to where the smaller companies have a viable opportunity to participate."
Wilson said he hopes commissioners can make a final decision on recycling within the next six months.
But Commissioner Ted Schrader noted this is the third attempt to revamp the county's program in the past several years.
"I don't see us being able to get some closure in the immediate future," he said.