ST. PETERSBURG — Recycling containers could soon become a familiar sight at every home in Florida's fourth-largest city.
After years of political debate, city staffers will unveil a detailed plan to the City Council today about how to make citywide curbside recycling a reality. St. Petersburg remains the only major Florida city not to offer a universal curbside recycling service.
The proposal calls for residents to mix recyclable material like plastic containers, metal cans, glass jars and paper into a single bin that would be picked up weekly.
The service would not be mandatory — meaning there would be no penalties for not recycling — but every home would pay an extra $3 a month on top of the $22.33 monthly fee for trash removal.
"We're going to have a big public education and marketing initiative attached to this," said Mike Connors, the city's public works administrator. "The best thing to do is to educate the public."
If the City Council adopts the plan, the city will seek proposals from private vendors for the service, Connors said, noting that it would cost $12 million for equipment if the city provided the service.
Residents should expect the council to grill staffers on a plan that passes costs to homeowners.
"It's clearly a step in the right direction," said council member Karl Nurse. "We have to put a downward direction on the costs."
Unlike the curbside containers used in many cities, St. Petersburg's recycling containers would mirror the 78,000 trash bins the city currently uses. The 90-gallon containers could land at homes by the end of September.
"The bigger the container the more you're going to recycle," Connors predicted.
St. Petersburg has long bragged that it was the first in Florida to be designated a "Green City" by the Florida Green Building Coalition for its embrace of environmental initiatives such as reclaimed water and land preservation.
But last year, 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. As a result, the City Council called for a study so staffers could explore possibilities for creating a program.
For years, City Hall has resisted attempts to incorporate curbside recycling into its waste services. Former Mayor Rick Baker outright rejected the idea. Former Mayor Bill Foster preferred a subscription-based service.
In his quest to unseat Foster in the 2013 election, then-candidate Rick Kriseman frequently told voters that he favored mandatory curbside recycling and pledged to institute a program once in office.
Currently, residents can voluntarily deliver paper, plastic and cardboard to 16 dropoff centers across the city.
The City Council voted in July 2012 to enter into a three-year contract with Waste Pro to keep a voluntary curbside program in the city through 2015. The service costs homeowners $3.75 per month. About 7,000 of the city's 76,000 households are enrolled.
The city pays $72,000 a year to subsidize the program, a cost offset by decreased dumping fees at the landfill. Taxpayers will not incur a cost to end the contract prematurely.
"We have the ability to terminate the contract for convenience," Connors said.
Mark Puente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter @markpuente.