St. Petersburg City Council's unanimous vote Thursday to move forward with universal curbside recycling came years after it should have, but — thanks to a new mayor and revitalized City Council — it finally came. Now the focus needs to shift toward reducing the program's anticipated costs and considering financing alternatives beyond simply increasing city residents' garbage fees.
Thursday's vote authorized staff to seek private vendor bids for the service, which is anticipated to provide single-family homes with a 90-gallon rolling trash can that would be pushed to the curb weekly for pickup. The cans would be equipped with a computer chip that could monitor use, a technology the city envisions using as a way to reward participation through discounts at retailers or other means. And the council is expected to pass ordinances to prohibit the information from being used to penalize residents, confirming that St. Petersburg's program will be voluntary, not mandatory as in other municipalities seeking to reduce solid-waste costs.
Thursday's City Council meeting saw the city's public works director, Mike Connors, do a 180-degree reversal from past recommendations under two previous mayors to not add universal curbside recycling. But it came after last November's elections in which Mayor Rick Kriseman, new council member Darden Rice and re-elected council member Karl Nurse all made recycling a signature of their campaigns. But the real victory goes to grass-roots groups spearheaded by the League of Women Voters, who refused in recent years to accept the previous mayor's half-measure of a voluntary, subscription-based curbside service.
"This is an exciting day," reminded Rice from the rostrum after the council had spent more than an hour bogged down in the plan's details, including the anticipated $3 monthly fee residents may be charged to fund the program. But she criticized staff for a lack of "creative thinking" on funding the project and joined other council members in agreeing to seek assistance from Pinellas County revenues from solid waste. Also missing is a plan to serve multifamily residences and businesses more conveniently than the city's 16 drop-off sites, which Kriseman promised staff will continue to work on.
That's good, because the broader reason for the city to add curbside recycling has always been a matter of long-term gains, not short-term costs. Recycling waste has the potential to forestall costly new landfills and reduce demand for traditional garbage service from twice a week to once a week — which would actually reduce garbage fees by $4 a month. And as Kriseman noted, it's a far more efficient use of resources: Recycling glass takes less energy than manufacturing it; recycling paper saves trees.
"It's the right thing to do from the stewardship standpoint," said council member Charlie Gerdes. Precisely.