ST. PETERSBURG — Curbside recycling has always been little more than a far-off notion in St. Petersburg, the only city among two dozen in Pinellas County without it.
So when the county agreed two years ago to provide the service at no cost to the city, many environmentally minded residents rejoiced. And then waited. And waited.
"A year ago, we had the county come in and tell us that, in four to six weeks, they were going to pull the trigger," said City Council member Karl Nurse. "And here we are. Still waiting."
No more. St. Petersburg officials are considering hiring a contractor to provide curbside recycling for residents who voluntarily subscribe to it.
"If the City Council wants to move ahead with putting a bid out, I'll do it now," said Mayor Bill Foster, who said participating residents would be charged between $5 and $7 a month.
The council will discuss options today during a 9:15 a.m. meeting at City Hall. One contractor, Pioneer Recycling, a Largo company, has already sent Foster a proposal.
It includes lending residents a 95-gallon container that would get emptied once a week. Residents would dump recycled materials into the containers. Company employees would later separate newspapers, cardboard, aluminum, plastics and glass and take them to a recycling center, according to Mike Connors, the city's public works director.
Pioneer Recycling would use the Louise Graham Regeneration Center, a not-for-profit organization that provides employment for developmentally disabled adults through the recycling and sale of paper products.
"That would assist them in their bid," Foster said. "That would help keep prices down while providing jobs for the special-needs population."
The exact cost for residents is unclear.
Residents would pay up to $7 a month if at least 50 percent of residents participated, said Connors. They'd pay more if participation was less than 50 percent.
Voluntary programs typically get about 30 percent of residents to participate, said Bob Hauser, the county's director of solid waste.
Environmental activists such as Darden Rice lauded Foster's proposal.
"It's good to see St. Pete take some steps toward recycling," said Rice, a board member of Progress Florida who lost a bid for the County Commission in 2008. "Mayor Foster deserves some credit for going ahead with this. It's nice we're getting leadership from the city while we wait for leadership from the county."
St. Petersburg council members could decide to wait and see what county commissioners decide May 4, when the group will discuss whether to spend about $10 million to $14 million on a countywide recycling program from surplus landfill tipping fees and power sold from an incinerator.
Commissioners Nancy Bostock and Neil Brickfield, who joined the board after the recycling had been approved, have balked at spending money on the program. Recycling got intertwined with the prospect of hiring a new garbage hauler for the entire county, further complicating it, Hauser said.
Still, Commissioner Ken Welch said he thinks countywide curbside recycling will happen.
"I'm optimistic," said Welch, who favors phasing in the recycling, starting first with St. Petersburg. "It's the right thing to do."
Even if commissioners give recycling the go-ahead next month, it would probably be a year before it would get started, Hauser said. It takes that long to bid out the contract, get the program started and educate the public.
Once started, however, a countywide program would have participation rates double those of a voluntary program like what the city is considering, Hauser said.
"My advice is for them to wait another month to see what commissioners decide to do," Hauser said.
"But I applaud the city for going off and doing it themselves."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.