ST. PETERSBURG — While citywide curbside recycling has been discussed for years, it will take five more months to learn whether a new program will become the norm in the Sunshine City.
Ultimately, the decision will come down to money.
After the City Council talked trash for an hour Thursday, the group unanimously approved a motion so staffers could explore possibilities on creating a program. They want answers by the end of 2013.
"We're going to cost this thing out," said Mayor Bill Foster. "I'm not against it. It comes down to cost."
Foster may not be against it, but public works administrator Mike Connors spent about 30 minutes detailing difficulties in offering a citywide service.
"Universal curbside recycling will cost more," he said, adding: "It's tough for me to justify the economic benefit of curbside recycling."
St. Petersburg remains the only major Florida city not to offer routine curbside recycling and has debated the issue for years.
In April, the St. Petersburg League of Women Voters released a report showing how the city trails others when it comes to recycling glass, plastic and other materials.
Currently, residents pay $22.33 each month for twice-weekly trash removal. A voluntary curbside-recycling program costs homeowners $3.75 per month.
In comparison, many other Pinellas cities charge lower monthly fees for trash removal and include recycling in the cost. Tampa's charge of $31.94 includes both services.
In response to the April report, Connors called the comparison unfair because the city's recycling program includes brush sites, rodent control and a free mulch program. Many other cities don't offer those services.
Besides added labor costs, St. Petersburg would need new trucks and containers, Connors said. Another obstacle would be the hundreds of 300-gallon trash containers in alleys shared by multiple homes, he added.
More than 40 percent of the residential trash is serviced from alleys. A citywide recycling program for 74,387 homes would not eliminate enough trash to reduce the pickup to once a week, Connors said.
"We would have garbage strewn all around those containers," he said.
Connors' report didn't deter residents and the council from moving forward.
"Universal curbside recycling is the next step we should take in the right direction," said resident Mary Gerken.
Council member Jeff Danner suggested staffers find ways to eliminate brush and yard waste from containers so more household trash could fit.
"This has come up every year I've been on council," Danner said. "I think it's worth looking into further."