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As Earth Day approaches, are Hernando residents headed in the right direction?

Doug Adams started recycling at his Spring Hill home a couple of years ago. You can't say it was an overwhelming concern for the environment that motivated him. A retiree who moved here five years ago from Connecticut, he found out he was paying the cost of recycling anyway.

"Then I found out it was a very good idea,'' said Adams.

So, each week he put out his bins with plastic, tin, paper and cardboard. And he discovered the amount of his regular trash dropped by two-thirds, which meant less refuse made its way to the near-capacity landfill.

But the weekly pick-up of recyclables at the curbside is about to change in Spring Hill. To reduce the cost of the county's per-customer subsidy, the pick-ups will now be every other week.

"That is completely the opposite of what we should be doing,'' said Adams, 63. "I'm just going to be forced to throw more stuff in the trash. You let it go for two weeks, you won't be able to fit it all in the bin.''

Indeed. In the month that we will observe the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, you have to wonder if the residents of Hernando County and other locales are moving in the right direction.

Less than 20 percent of the homes that have curbside recycling available to them in Spring Hill actually recycle. Just 5 percent of the 119,000 tons of garbage generated in the county annually are recycled. It should be higher. As much as 47 percent of trash is considered recyclable.

There are other indications the community has higher priorities than reducing litter and the flow of trash to the landfill. Try reaching the Hernando affiliate of Keep America Beautiful. Google it on the Internet and you reach a link that identifies an executive director in Brooksville, but a call to the listed number finds it disconnected. State corporate records show the local affiliate of the national non-profit died in 1997, three years after its formation.

Or consider the words of Laurel Rood, who organized the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup Day in December at the Weeki Wachee Preserve and other sites.

"It may be an annual event, but this is something that could probably be done every week in our area," Rood said at the time. "It gets worse every year.''

Adams chronicled his daily patrol along Deltona Boulevard in a letter to the Times, noting every day "there is new litter in our yard ranging from a few dozen cigarette filters, beer cans/bottles to someone's McDonald's breakfast bag and an ant-filled soda.''

He should try my walk. Earlier this year I surveyed the roadside trash along a 300-yard trek in central Pasco County and discovered, among other things: food wrappers or containers from six fast-food restaurants; a variety of beer, soda, energy drink, juice and water bottles and cans; an adult-sized mitten; a condom wrapper and porn — two black and white prints of women from a Web site featuring "Mature Wives Picture Galleries.''

The images of naked cougars notwithstanding, Keep America Beautiful says litter along our roads is declining. The organization said it measured road litter in 45 metropolitan areas and 180 other locations nationally and also observed behavior of 10,000 individuals across 10 states. Its findings show the amount of litter has decreased by 61 percent across the country since 1968.

Where?

"I don't know that it's increased, but I would be hard pressed to argue that it decreased,'' said Joe Murphy of the Gulf Restoration Network.

Murphy looks at a broader picture. The focus for most of us is the unappealing aesthetics of roadside litter. But, plastics and discarded fishing line are harmful to wildlife and the marine ecosystem.

Certainly, more work is needed. Just check the public rights of way for visual proof. Meanwhile, organized clean-ups are few, curbside recycling is being reduced and county government's resources are stretched trying to fill other needs.

"There's only so many fingers,'' said Murphy, "and there's a lot of holes in the dike.''

As Earth Day approaches, are Hernando residents headed in the right direction? 04/03/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 2, 2010 9:54pm]

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