Pasco's curbside recycling program is showing modest growth in participation and even greater gains in the amount of material being collected. The upward trends are encouraging, but they do not offset the need for overhauling the every-company-for-itself private garbage collection system across the county.
In June, the county attempted to upgrade its two-decade-old voluntary recycling program by accepting a greater variety of plastics and by allowing residents to use their own containers rather than mandating plastic blue bags. In the three months that followed, participation increased roughly 2 percent to 27 percent of the households served by nine commercial haulers. The amount of recycled glass, plastics and metal jumped nearly 11 percent to more than 928 tons for the second quarter of the year.
Any improvement is welcome, but commissioners shouldn't be satisfied with the limited results and should move toward franchise agreements for trash collection and universal recycling. The county could award contracts to serve franchised areas based on geographic boundaries that would end the current inefficient system in which eight haulers fight for market share across the county.
Nearly a year ago, the commission's top recycling advocate, Commissioner Henry Wilson, briefed the board on the pending recycling changes and suggested the county should consider franchising the county's trash collection system if the recycling rates didn't improve. He should rekindle the now familiar debate. Twice since 2009 commissioners agreed to seek franchise contracts for trash collection, but retreated to the status quo amid heavy lobbying from private haulers.
The private sector's bottom line, however, can't be the only consideration. Just check the data in a Dec. 6 memorandum to commissioners from their utility department in response to a requested rate increase from Waste Management of Pasco. The monthly rate is capped at $12.44 per household for twice-a-week garbage collections and twice-a-month recycling. The suggested increase of nearly 17 percent would push the cost to $14.54, a rate supported by only one other hauler, Republic/Seaside. County staffers recommended rejecting the rate request and commissioners should do likewise when they consider it in January.
In the meantime, they should make note of the staff's survey of hauler rates in surrounding counties. In Hillsborough County, which updated its franchise agreements earlier this year, residents pay $6.88 per month for better service than Pasco haulers offer. In Hillsborough, the service includes weekly pickup of recycling and yard waste. In Hernando County, the 2011 franchise agreements cost residents $6.16 to $8.41 per month, depending on location, for similar service.
This should be the data that matters to commissioners. Their constituents are paying nearly twice as much as their closest neighbors for inferior trash collection service. It is time to modernize the system, give Pasco households a financial break and simultaneously boost the county's recycling rates.