In a few weeks, St. Petersburg residents will be able to sign up for curbside recycling service. It's about time. When it comes to curbside recycling, St. Petersburg has been in the dark ages, lagging behind cities big and small around Pinellas County, the state and the nation.
Residents weary of driving their recyclables to city drop-off centers will have Mayor Bill Foster to thank for the convenience of toting the items only as far as the curb in front of their homes. It was Foster who directed the city staff to develop a proposal and seek out a private contractor who would provide curbside pickup at a reasonable price.
The deal they negotiated with Waste Services Inc., confirmed by unanimous vote of the City Council on Thursday, has a lot of pluses for residents and city government. For only $33 a year, residents will get weekly pickup of recyclable newspaper, cardboard, aluminum cans, and plastic and glass bottles. The price is locked in for two years. Residents won't even have to sort the items, just put them in a company-provided 18-gallon bin about the size of a laundry basket and set it at the curb on pickup day.
The city had expected to have to handle customer billing, but Waste Services agreed to do that, too. For its part, the city agreed to help the company market the service.
Some opposition to the city plan surfaced in recent days from people who mistakenly believed the city would require them to pay for curbside recycling even if they didn't want it. On Thursday, Foster emphasized that no one will be required to purchase curbside service. Those who want it will make their own arrangements with Waste Services. The city drop-off centers will continue to be available free of charge for those who want to use them instead.
However, the curbside service is expected to be popular, especially since the price is so low — less per week "than the cost of a Happy Meal," Foster noted Thursday.
Foster's leadership on the issue was good to see. His predecessor, Rick Baker, opposed curbside recycling for years, contending it would be too costly and that trucks picking up recyclables would pollute the environment. Baker dropped his opposition only after Pinellas County government proposed a countywide curbside program at the county's cost.
Pinellas commissioners recently delayed that proposal for two years. That's when Foster told his staff to put out a request for proposals from private recycling companies. Four responded, but Waste Services, which has headquarters in Florida and an office in Clearwater, offered the best deal. Waste Services also agreed to provide recyclables to the Louise Graham Regeneration Center, a local nonprofit that recycles paper into other products while providing jobs for developmentally disabled adults.
While convenience may be the primary appeal of curbside service for residents, city officials have an additional purpose in mind. The day is coming when communities may be required to divert a certain percentage of their waste from landfills. Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill this year that calls for communities to recycle at least 75 percent of their solid waste by 2020.
It is vital to reach that goal in Pinellas, which is running out of space to bury garbage. If curbside convenience encourages more residents of Pinellas' biggest city to recycle, an important step toward achieving the goal will have been taken.