To encourage recycling, Pasco County may cut trash service

The county hopes residents like the pickup proposal which will help them delay spending $190M until 2030.
A proposal to increase curbside recycling in Pasco County calls for halving twice-a-week trash pick-up service and expanding recycling pick-up from twice a month to once a week. SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times
A proposal to increase curbside recycling in Pasco County calls for halving twice-a-week trash pick-up service and expanding recycling pick-up from twice a month to once a week.SKIP O'ROURKE | Times
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DADE CITY — Pasco County wants to boost curbside recycling by halving residents' twice-weekly trash service.

As a trade-off, private haulers would increase the pickup of paper, cardboard, aluminum, plastic and glass from twice a month to once a week. The idea is to encourage residents to recycle those items rather than disposing of them in their household trash.

Additionally, property owners may be asked to pay a higher annual trash assessment from the county.

The proposals from the county utilities department are part of a multi-pronged approach to both defer and help finance an expensive but inevitable alternative — expanding the county's trash-burning plant in Shady Hills. Adding to the plant, now operating near or at capacity, is projected to cost $190 million and county officials hope to delay the project until 2030.

"This thing causes me much stress,'' said Flip Mellinger, assistant county administrator for utilities. "A $190 million expansion, we don't have money to pay for it. How are we going to solve that? This is a challenge.''

The department's plan, presented to commissioners at a Nov. 15 workshop, calls for increasing the annual $62 solid waste assessment by $2 per household. The increase would be set aside to help finance the expansion. Currently, owners of nearly 200,000 parcels in the county pay the annual assessment.

Mellinger said the county also should consider reducing its water impact fee on new construction, and instead charge a solid-waste impact fee to pay for the larger incinerator.

In the meantime, more recycling will reduce the amount of waste burned at the plant, effectively extending the life of the facility at its current size. A 2011 study found one-fifth of the material burned at the incinerator was recyclable paper and cardboard and another 14 percent was cans and bottles that weren't recycled. Last year, the county burned approximately 330,000 tons of trash at the incinerator while recycling 4,200 tons.

But, cutting twice-weekly trash pick-up service drew a cool response from commissioners, notably Commissioner Mike Moore who said he already had floated the idea to some friends and neighbors.

"That did not go over very well,'' he said. "I don't think that's a great idea.''

The weekly pick-up of recyclables is a key part of Mellinger's ambitious proposal for county residents and businesses to recycle 168,000 tons of material by 2030, essentially a forty-fold increase in 14 years. He acknowledged even his own staff called it "pie in the sky.''

"Maybe it is,'' he admitted, but the public should understand "you can all share that ($190 million) cost or we can do something differently in our homes.''

Increasing recycling to once a week while still maintaining twice-weekly trash service could increase customers' monthly bills from 78 cents to $4.15 depending on their hauler, the county said. The maximum monthly charge allowed by the county now is $12.44. Haulers also can charge a $1 per month fee for providing a container.

Nobody asked the haulers attending the meeting if they would reduce their charges if the county authorized switching to weekly trash and recycling service. Doing so cuts haulers' truck trips on residential streets by 20 percent.

If approved, the proposed changes would be the third alteration to the county's curbside recycling program since 2015. The county ditched its former blue-bag recycling 13 months ago after recyclers declined to bid on the county contract to sort and resell plastic and aluminum if the materials came wrapped in plastic bags. In June, the county began curbside pickup of newspaper and cardboard. Previously, those materials could only be recycled at drop-off bins at libraries, parks, fire stations and schools.

The county also has said it likely will end glass recycling at some point because there is no market for the material.

None of the proposals will be occurring immediately. Commissioners said their next step is to survey residents about their recycling habits and to determine if they would be willing to pay more to maintain the twice-weekly trash service.

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