Friday, June 22, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg takes fresh look at doing its own recycling service

ST. PETERSBURG — As debate continues to swirl over how to best provide curbside recycling to residents, officials have long asserted it would be too expensive for city workers provide the service.

Mayor Rick Kriseman has asked them to take another look.

"The potential to perform this in-house is now back on the table," Mike Connors, the city's public works director, told the council Thursday.

The city will still solicit bids from private vendors for its new universal curbside recycling program, but will simultaneously explore using city resources instead.

Administrators have consistently cited cost as a reason not to do so. In February, Connors said it would cost $12 million in equipment alone if the city provided the service.

And just a few weeks ago, city spokesman Ben Kirby confirmed that the administration still planned to use an outside contractor because of cost.

So why the pivot?

"As the process went forward, the mayor did a little research on his own and asked Mike Connors to take another look," Kirby said Thursday.

Kriseman looked at other cities, like Savannah, which does its own recycling, he said.

The mayor also wants staffers to look at whether costs would be lower if the city did twice-a-month pickup instead of weekly, Kirby said.

Last month, during a public budget summit, several sanitation workers came forward to ask why city officials assumed they could not handle the job.

Kirby could not say if the workers' pleas factored into the mayor's request.

"The mayor did what he does, which is dig in on an issue and do more research," Kirby said. "He just asked — is it feasible? The mayor at least would like to know why."

Council member Darden Rice, who pushed for universal curbside recycling long before she took office, said she was glad to hear the city was considering its own workers for the job.

"The key thing is to keep our eyes on the ball and keep moving forward," she said Thursday. "Frankly I've been a little skeptical of the numbers that showed that we wouldn't be able to do it in-house."

Council member Steve Kornell said he feels like previous administrations never had the will to do recycling.

He also was happy to hear of the second look.

"I always thought our workers could do it," he said.

The first bid, posted Thursday to the city's website and due July 10, is for processing and marketing of single-stream, collected recyclable material. A second bid, for the actual collection contract, will go out later.

The city may need to rely on an outside company, even if it's just for things like sorting, Kirby said.

If St. Petersburg opts to provide the service itself, it wouldn't be alone.

Clearwater's Solid Waste Department handles once-a-week single-stream recycling citywide. The program costs $2.9 million, and 22 employees are budgeted for the service, which also is offered to multifamily complexes and businesses.

Since switching to larger single-stream recycling barrels in October, Clearwater has seen a large decrease in trash and an increase in recycled materials. Because of that, the city is considering reducing trash pickup to once a week, said Joelle Castelli, a Clearwater spokeswoman.

Times staff writer Charlie Frago contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow on Twitter @cornandpotatoes.

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