ST. PETERSBURG — Within the next seven months, the Sunshine City will lose its distinction as the largest Florida municipality without a universal recycling service.
Under the leadership of new Mayor Rick Kriseman, City Council members on Thursday voted unanimously to move forward with a plan to create a citywide program for the city's 76,000 residential customers.
"It should have been done a long time ago," said council member Wengay Newton.
The program would not be mandatory — meaning homeowners wouldn't face penalties for not recycling — but every home would still pay an extra $3 a month on top of the $22.33 monthly fee for trash removal.
The city will solicit proposals from private vendors and mandate that residents get the jobs that the service creates.
Although the plan will move forward, council members did question the fees. They also passed a motion to ask Pinellas County to help pay for the service since the county is responsible for solid waste.
"This is an exciting day," said council member Darden Rice, who for years has advocated for the service. "The city is taking a major step forward."
The proposal calls for residents to mix recyclable material such as plastic containers, metal cans, glass jars and paper into a 90-gallon container that would be picked up curbside each week.
Of the 246,000 tons of trash collected each year in the city, 46 percent comes from residential customers.
The plan also includes:
• Incentives for homeowners. Containers would hold computer chips that measure how often they're used. Frequent users, for example, could receive discounts from certain businesses.
Council members also discussed passing future ordinances to prevent the chips from being used to penalize residents.
"I'd like to remove the big brother implications that we're going to be watching," said council member Charlie Gerdes.
• Reduced trash service. A long-term goal of the recycling service is to reduce regular trash service from two pickups each week to one, because the new program should alleviate some of the load.
• The 16 dropoff centers across the city would stay open. Currently, apartments, condominiums and commercial buildings are not included in the plan. Multifamily dwellings with more than two units would also be excluded.
Kriseman told the council he will push staffers to find ways to include multifamily and commercial customers.
Council member Amy Foster said she was disappointed in the details, noting that her family is among those in a multifamily unit.
Supporters, wearing green stickers, packed the chambers, readily accepting the $3 charge with the promise of potential new jobs.
"This isn't a few environmentalists looking for a victory," said Aaron Dietrich, a community organizer for the Florida Public Service Union.
City leaders and recycling supporters have battled for years over creating a citywide service. Only about 7,000 residents pay the necessary $3.75 each month for the subscription service.
Last year, the St. Petersburg League of Women Voters released a report showing that many other Florida cities already had a universal program. That prompted the council to call for a study to develop one.
"What a difference an election makes," one recycling supporter told the council.
But the plan does have at least one opponent.
David McKalip, a neurosurgeon and former council candidate, blasted the members for passing costs to struggling homeowners. He called them both progressive and liberal.
"Your actions are shameless," he said. "You have a utopian vision you will force on people."
Mark Puente can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter @markpuente.