It's a mystery why St. Petersburg is finding it so difficult to create a universal curbside recycling program. The latest stumble: The city put out a request for bids from companies that process recyclables, but not a single company was willing to submit a bid. Mayor Rick Kriseman needs to find out what went wrong and how to fix it, even if that means taking his staff on a field trip to other cities to study long-successful programs.
For years St. Petersburg residents have asked for universal curbside recycling, but two former mayors' hostility to the idea kept it from happening. St. Petersburg residents who wanted to recycle had to stash their recyclables in their cars and drive them to a dropoff center or use a subscription-based service from a private company. Meanwhile, the Florida Legislature, foreseeing a time when landfills would be full, approved a call for local communities to recycle at least 75 percent of their waste stream by 2020. That will be difficult to reach without dedicated effort by local governments and residents throughout Florida to recycle far more than they do now.
According to City Council members, former Mayor Bill Foster had told them the city sanitation department wasn't up to handling curbside pickup of recyclables — a charge that workers in that department have since disputed. Many other cities use their own sanitation employees for that job, finding it cheaper than contracting with private companies and easier to control the quality of the service. Kriseman recently determined that pickup could be done by city workers with the addition of a few more trucks and drivers, but the city still needed to hire a company to process the recyclables once they were collected. The city staff prepared the request for bids that got zero response.
Why would local companies that process recyclables not want the business of Pinellas' largest city? A couple of the companies wrote letters to explain. It was clear they found the city's bid specifications atypical and unworkable. Kriseman says he will meet with the companies to see what can be done to make the city's invitation more attractive. He could also ask administrators of other cities' recycling programs to review St. Petersburg's bid documents to see what could be dropped or streamlined without risk to the city.
Recycling is a proven way to reduce waste, preserve landfill space and protect the environment. Kriseman should move the city quickly past this latest obstacle.